MADD Pushes for Alcohol Detectors in All Cars

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Today the American Beverage Institute (ABI), a restaurant trade association representing over 8,000 American restaurants, criticized Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s (MADD) “Report to the Nation,” which advocates placing alcohol detection devices in the cars of all Americans.MADD previously insisted the technology, which is being developed by researchers funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and automakers, would be voluntary. In the past year, however, both MADD and NHTSA have admitted that the ultimate goal is to make these devices installed as standard equipment in all cars.

In MADD’s “Report to the Nation,” the organization states: “Tomorrow’s cars will protect each of us, automatically determining whether or not the driver is at or above the illegal limit of .08 blood alcohol content and failing to operate if the driver is impaired.” And earlier this month, MADD President Jan Withers said the technology could become as standard as an airbag.

A Department of Transportation fact sheet about the technology dated as recently as January admits: “The goal over time is to equip all passenger vehicles in the United States with the technology.” Even the head of the research program that this bill would fund is open about this objective: “Ultimately we would like them on all vehicles.”

Proponents claim that the devices would only prevent drivers from driving with a blood alcohol concentration above the current legal limit of .08. However, due to legal, liability, and logistical concerns, they would have to be set below the legal limit – most likely around 0.03-0.04.

Susan Ferguson, the head of the government program performing the alcohol detection device research, acknowledged this in a July 2009 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial column, “Ferguson concedes this: Her devices will be set with a safety margin.”

“Putting alcohol detectors in all cars would effectively eliminate many Americans’ choice to have a wine with dinner, beer at a ball game, or a champagne toast at a wedding and drive home, because the devices will be set well below the legal limit,” said Longwell. “We all want to increase traffic safety, but to do this we should focus on policies that target drunk drivers, not all Americans.”

Longwell continued, “Even the government promised reliability standard of 99.99966% accuracy would still mean over 4,000 misreadings per day.”

The American Beverage Institute strongly urges both chambers of Congress to reject the ROADS SAFE Act, which would appropriate $60 million to the campaign to put alcohol detectors in all cars.