Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Big brother wants to ride with you

A little known bill managed to slide under many radar screens this summer that may result in alcohol monitoring devices being installed on new cars. The ROADS SAFE Act of 2010 was introduced by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) and co-sponsored by a bevy of senators including New York's Charles Schumer and David Vitter of Louisiana. Of course the clunky name of the proposed legislation (S. 3039) is an acronym - in this case, standing for Research of Alcohol Detection Systems for Stopping Alcohol-related Fatalities Everywhere. The House version of the bill (HR 4890) was introduced by Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI).

The bill calls for federal funds to be spent on researching alcohol monitoring devices that can be installed in cars in order to prevent an intoxicated driver from starting the engine. The technology could range from interlock devices to alcohol sensors in the steering wheel. Mr. Schumer is pushing for legislation in New York that would allow parents to buy alcohol monitoring devices and have them installed on their childrens' cars.

If these devices are one day mandated on all new cars sold in the United States, who will be in charge of calibrating and cleaning the equipment? At what alcohol concentration would the device not allow the driver to start the car? Sarah Longwell of the American Beverage Institute thinks the devices should be set to an alcohol concentration of .04, meaning that, in most states, the device would prevent a motorist from legally operating a motor vehicle. Does anyone see a problem with that?

Would would happen if a motorist was arrested on suspicion of DWI but had an alcohol monitoring device in their car that allowed them to operate the vehicle? Since the devices can't measure the loss of normal use, would that definition of intoxication eventually fall by the wayside to be replaced with an alcohol concentration?

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