Legislating around alcohol and driving using imperfect technology.
Most Americans are familiar with breathalyzers — devices commonly used by law enforcement to detect the blood-alcohol concentration level (BAC) of a driver. Although major legal repercussions hinge on the readings from these devices, rarely do people stop to question their accuracy.
The New York Times recently explored the reliability of breathalyzers and found the devices often relay false results. Not only is human error to blame, but the machines are delicate and require routine upkeep to remain accurate. The Times investigation uncovered that breathalyzers are often not calibrated and can register BAC levels up to 40 percent higher than the user’s actual degree of intoxication.
Now, some federal lawmakers want to force all Americans to not only use some version of this flawed technology, but rely on it.
Sen. Tom Udall, New Mexico Democrat, and Sen. Rick Scott, Florida Republican, recently unveiled the Reduce Impaired Driving for Everyone Act of 2019 — or the RIDE Act for short. If passed, the legislation would require alcohol detection devices be installed in all new vehicles by 2024 as standard equipment; simply put, an engine won’t start if the system detects a certain level of alcohol in a driver’s blood stream.
The technology, known as the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, or DADSS, uses steering wheel sensors and other technology to measure the BAC of a driver more quickly and discreetly.
BAC measurements must be accurate up to one one-thousandth of a percent, or three decimal places. When car manufactures still have a difficult time keeping basic car batteries operating or various warning lights from giving off false positives, it’s not difficult to imagineintricate alcohol detection devices going haywire as well. Especially when the devices would be subject to extreme temperature shifts, rough road vibrations and a variety of confounding chemical factors.