Infrastructure Bill Seeks a Drunk Driver Monitoring System & Other Vehicle Safety Measures
By Jonathan Blecher on August 10, 2021
The U.S. Senate voted UP on a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill aimed at repairing the country’s roadways and bridges, improving the electrical grid, and providing rural communities with high-speed Internet, and instituting several eco-friendly measures. However, contained within the 2,702-page plan, there are several consumer safety provisions, such as keeping drunk drivers off the road and preventing hot car child deaths.
In the past, we’ve held people responsible for their individual conduct. We’ve appealed to people’s conscience or threatened them with criminal sanctions. This idea makes DUI impossible. Right?
So, if there’s no more DUI, simply tampering with the devices could be criminalized. That’s very possible. An impaired driver could simply use a can of clean air and spray it into the device in order to defeat it. How about asking a sober friend to touch the screen? Are we going to log fingerprints of drivers now?
Consider that even a completely sober person might be stuck in a car that won’t start because of broken technology. What about hand sanitizers which are very high in alcohol? Would a touch screen alcohol detector be affected?
People ought to be concerned that the “advanced impaired driving tech” is just another thing that could break and cause a car to not start.
Drunk Driver Monitoring System
One of the provisions of the infrastructure bill mandates all cars manufactured from 2027 and beyond be equipped with a drunk driver monitoring system. Lawmakers from both parties are willing to pay for new roadways, in exchange for keeping the new lanes safe from intoxicated motorists.
The NHTSA, the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS), and an industry group comprised of all major automakers formed the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety Program (DADSS) after working together since 2008 to create a new technology to thwart drunk driving. In theory, the car would not start if the system determined a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) level is above the legal limit.
The following are several detection systems currently in the works:
- Multiple sensors that detect the BAC level of a driver’s breath in the cabin air
- A built-in camera in front of the driver, which looks for facial cues of potential driver inebriation
- A touch sensor with infrared lights built into the push-start engine button or steering wheel to detect BAC through the skin
If approved, anti-drunk-driving tech manufacturers would be chosen by the NHTSA within three years. Installation in consumer vehicles would then happen after another two years.
However, an important question that has not been answered is will this technology work? When it comes to ignition interlock device (IID) installation for DUI offenders, even these breathalyzers experience malfunctions and produce false-positive results to prevent sober drivers from driving their vehicles.
Mandating such technology for public use would result in hundreds of millions of scans every day. Even if the error rate averages to .01 percent, which would produce millions of errors per day.
Another main concern is consumer privacy. Although automakers must have security measures in place to protect driver data, they generally rely on other platforms and technologies that could be hacked or otherwise accessed by unauthorized parties.
DADSS is currently testing their “GEN 3.3” breath sensor and plans to install the technology in fleet vehicles later this year. The group says the “GEN 4.0” system should be ready for consumer vehicles by 2024.
When it comes to the touch sensor, DADSS says the technology is a year behind schedule. But there is a provision in the bill that allows the transportation secretary to delay the requirement if the system is not ready yet.
Other Vehicle Safety Measures
Another provision in the Senate proposal would require automakers to install rear seat reminders, alerting drivers if a child is placed in the back seat. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved requests from Tesla and five other auto manufacturers in April 2021 to create radar-based alert systems to detect minors and animals left in the rear seat.
Furthermore, lawmakers asked automakers to install collision detection technology that can automatically apply the brakes, if a driver fails to react in time. Due to a voluntary plan released during the last weeks of the Obama administration, nearly all suppliers agreed to introduce such technology within the next few years on most of their vehicles.