Should All Cars Come Equipped with Breathalyzers?

alcoholic-drinks-breathalyzerAccording to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2004, 16,694 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes. With statistics like that, it is easy to see why state legislators are getting calls to mandate equipping cars with breathalyzers and ignition interlock devices.

An ignition interlock device is a sophisticated system that tests a driver’s breath to determine one’s blood alcohol level. The apparatus requires the driver to blow into a small handheld unit that is attached to a vehicle’s dashboard. The alcohol sensor records a digital reading. If a blood alcohol level is above a preset point, then car cannot be started.

The idea of widespread use of such equipment once considered radical, no longer seems out of the question. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) gives a qualified endorsement to the idea. Legislation is pending in at least 12 states that would require interlocks for some or all first-time offenders. New York state legislators are considering requiring the devices on all cars and trucks by 2009/

Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, the sponsor of the New York bill is the same lawmaker who also sponsored the first law banning the use of handheld cell phones while driving. When confronted with complaints about the cost (Current breathalyzers cost about $1,000) or invasion of privacy concerns, Ortiz says he heard similar complaints about the cell phone ban and hands-free technology. He compares the criticism to early complaints about mandatory safety belts.

MADD,The National Commission Against Drunk Driving (NCADD), and others trying to reduce the estimated 17,000 alcohol-related fatalities a year say ignition interlock devices are the only certain way to divide potential drunken drivers from their “weapons.”

“If the public wants it and the data support it, it is literally possible that the epidemic of drunk driving could be solved where cars simply could not be operated by drunk drivers,” says Chuck Hurley, CEO of MADD, which is hosting its first conference on drunken-driving technology in June.

“What a great day that would be.”

Currently there are approximately 70,000 ignition interlocks are on vehicles, the lions share of them are ordered by the courts for repeat drunken-driving offenders.

A former National Transportation Safety Board official, Barry Sweedler, has been working with automakers to place the wiring for ignition interlock devices in all cars there by making it easier to install the devices. Once interlocks can automatically check alcohol levels without any action from drivers, Sweedler believes they should be standard equipment in all cars.

Many of the companies offer car insurance are also interested in the application of such technology but have not yet backed the idea of requiring it as standard equipment.

Opposition to Breathalyzers

As you can well imagine, there has been vast opposition to mandating that all cars be equipped with such devices. Civil libertarians complain that such devices installed in cars owned by people who have not been convicted of an DUI offense, is simply unconstitutional.

Plans to mandate universal use of such devices cause John Doyle, executive director of the American Beverage Institute, recoil. “This campaign is a lot further down the pike than people realize,” says Doyle. (American Beverage Institute is funded by chains including Outback Steakhouse and Chili’s and is leading the opposition to broader use of interlock devices.)

What happens if your car stalls in the middle of traffic? Would the motorist have to blow again before being able to start the vehicle? Ignition-interlock.com reports that a driver must wait 30 seconds before starting the car in order to achieve an accurate reading.

“What about people who suffer from asthma?” “Will all users physically be able to handle the stress of taking a Breathalyzer on a regular basis?” Marietta Carr displayed similar concern to KRQE News 13.“I understand why the courts would require drivers convicted of DUI, especially repeat offenders to install such devices, but I don’t drink and drive; so there is no valid reason to force me to put one in my car”, states Alan Craine, Telecommunications executive.

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