Federal Bill Could Make In-Car Alcohol Detectors More Common

March 11, 2011
Alcohol detectors may become mandatory in cars

Alcohol detectors may become mandatory in cars

Could ignition interlocks, which help prevent people from drunk driving, be installed on a much larger scale? Perhaps even so well-integrated in some vehicles that all you'd have to do is tough the steering wheel or ignition button?

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).


Interlocks have shown to be one of the most effective ways of keeping repeat drunk drivers off the road. Those who are involved in fatal crashes and had a BAC of .08 or higher are eight times more likely to have had a prior conviction for DWI/DUI than those drivers who didn't have alcohol in their system.

Studies have found that the installation of ignition interlocks leads to a 70-percent reduction in impaired-driver arrests.

Currently, interlocks are only installed by court order. And with an interlock system such as those provided by Smart Start, six violations are allowed; after that the vehicle won't start at all. But for a warning, the system would typically be calibrated at .03-.04 BAC, a level well below the .08 threshold for DUI.

Would alcohol detectors keep more Americans home?



Meanwhile, the American Beverage Institute, an organization representing restaurants, argues that if more vehicles included alcohol detectors, there could be some far-reaching effects on the lifestyles of law-abiding Americans—specifically, no more casual drinking when taking the car out for the evening. The association thinks that people should be able to drink and drive—within reason, so as to enable a glass of wine with dinner, or a beer at the ball game.

What do you think? Is buzzed driving—or light alcohol consumption before driving—okay?

The Car Connection
See the winners »
The Car Connection
Commenting is closed for this article
Ratings and Reviews
Rate and review your car for The Car Connection
Review your car
The Car Connection Daily Headlines
I agree to receive emails from The Car Connection. I understand that I can unsubscribe at any time. Privacy Policy.
Thank you! Please check your email for confirmation.