Alcohol detectors may become mandatory in carsEnlarge Photo
Those are aims of a bill introduced this past week by Senators Udall (D-NM) and Corker (R-TN). The Research of Alcohol Detection Systems for Stopping Alcohol-related Fatalities Everywhere (or ROADS SAFE) Act would cost $60 million over five years and would spearhead development of new technology that would reliably and easily measure blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) for drivers as they get in the vehicle or attempt to turn on the ignition.
That's small change compared to the annual cost alone of drunk driving in the U.S. is estimated to be an order of magnitude greater—more than $51 billion, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Looking at how to make interlocks more common, less intrusive
Some reports, such as this one, have emphasized, in a way that could be misleading, that the bill would call for installing the devices in new cars. Although the bill doesn't make any moves explicitly require interlock devices in all vehicles, it admittedly could pave the way to make it possible—and considerably more common, especially in new cars. The goal of the bill, though, is technology exploration, and how to make ignition interlocks—often used to keep repeat DUI offenders off the road—less obtrusive for those who stay sober. The legislation isn't a completely new idea; a similar bill was sponsored last year in the U.S. House of Representatives by Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) and co-sponsored by 15 Democrats; since then it's been in subcommittee.
It's been estimated that well under one percent of drunk drivers are caught or arrested. While 1.4 million drivers were arrested for drunk driving in 2009, about 147 million Americans likely drove drunk, based on self-reporting. Again, a huge portion of these are chronic offenders. Yet, largely because of cost and installation issues, along with local opposition in some cases, there are fewer interlocks than you might think—only about 212,000 as of October 2010, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).