Nanny Staters want alcohol-detection devices in all cars

Given all of the recent discussion of federal deficits, you might be surprised to learn that advocates of the Nanny State now want to spend 24 million of your taxpayer dollars in an effort to stop you from having a glass of wine with dinner before you get behind the wheel.

The recently passed Senate highway bill contains provisions heavily supported by Mothers Against Drunk Driving that would spend your money on the further development of an alcohol-detection device that would eventually become standard in all cars. Known as DADSS (Driver Alcohol Detector System for Safety), the technology uses a variety of sensors to determine the blood alcohol content of drivers through their skin and breath.

While some officials are denying their intention to put this intrusive technology in all cars, the Department of Transportation is on record as stating that "the goal over time is to equip all passenger vehicles in the United States with the technology." MADD's president admits that the organization wants to see the devices as standard in vehicles as seat belts or air bags.

Once installed, proponents claim these devices will ensure those with a blood alcohol content above the legal limit of 0.08 percent can't drive - if that were case, our industry could happily support the technology.

Unfortunately, these devices will be calibrated to be set well below the legal limit. Why? Basic physiology. It can take a couple of hours for a person to reach peak blood alcohol content after he stops drinking. This means that you could have five drinks and still have a blood alcohol content below 0.08 when you started your car. But your blood alcohol level would continue to rise and you could cross the 0.08 legal threshold while you were driving and rise to levels well beyond the legal limit.

Should that driver then get into an automobile accident, DADSS manufacturers and car companies could both be held legally liable in civil cases, at the very least. To avoid such litigation, the alcohol detection devices will have to be calibrated well below the legal limit and could be set as low as 0.02, the blood alcohol content level most individuals reach after only one drink.

The political effort to put alcohol sensing technology in all cars is part of a larger campaign to quash social drinking. The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have both pushed for lowering the legal limit to 0.05.

Leaving biology aside, let's consider mechanics for a second: Even if these devices meet Six Sigma standards - i.e., they meet the necessary requirements for widespread installation by working properly 99.999966 percent of the time - there will still be 4,000 misreadings per day. That's thousands of people stranded on a daily basis, unable to start their cars - or worse, drunken drivers who are able to get behind the wheel.

Given that our country is more than $15.5 trillion in debt, we shouldn't be using government money - our tax dollars - on the development of a device that will make cars more expensive to buy and maintain, increase the unreliability of our automobiles and make it impossible to enjoy a single drink before driving.

Sarah Longwell is the managing director of the American Beverage Institute, an association of restaurants committed to the responsible serving of adult beverages.