Should We Put Alcohol Sensors in Cars?

A recent news story claimed that a new technology could “virtually eliminate” drunk driving. That technology? Touch sensors on either the gear shift or starter button that measure alcohol content through skin contact. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association’s goal is to have these devices be put into new cars in the next several years.

Will it work? Maybe. But anticipate that there will a lot of pushback. Many, if not most, Americans see driving as a right, which is a misconception. Legally speaking, driving is a privilege. You have a legal right (though not expressly mentioned in the Constitution of Bill of Rights) to freedom of movement between states, but how you move is up to you.

The NHTSA hasn’t had the best track record with ensuring auto safety, and was recently blasted by the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee of the U.S. Senate over the botched handling of product recalls. Finally, do we really want to have this government agency pushing for a technology that, if faulty, would prevent us from starting our cars for no good reason, ahead of schedule? The NHTSA Administrator is so anxious to roll out this device that

“[he] said he would push to get the technology finalized, field tested and put into use before the five to eight years anticipated by researchers.”

That’s right. Those egghead researchers say we need five to eight years to test this thing, but let’s roll it out as soon as possible.

Perhaps we need to take a step back. Yes, preventing drunk driving deaths is a laudable goal. But let’s make sure it’s achievable through working technology before we start mandating things. Or, even better, let’s make sure the NHTSA is actually functioning properly and doing its job by keeping defective cars and car parts off of the market before we start adding new, potentially malfunctioning, equipment.