Drunk driving devices are not effective prevention

It’s late on a Thursday night and you’ve been out with your friends, probably consuming a few too many piña coladas or whatever your drink of choice is. As you place your key in the ignition and turn, the usual purr of the engine is unmistakably absent. Nothing is mechanically wrong with your car, but your all-night alcoholic consumption is the culprit of this dilemma.

According to a March 10 Star-Telegram article, devices that would prevent a car from starting if the driver is under the influence of alcohol could be a feature on new cars for Americans in the near future.

I am in favor of preventing the number of impaired drivers on the roads, but other methods that do not impose on individual rights should be considered.

The proposed bill, supported by nine U.S. senators, is called, the Research of Alcohol Detection Systems for Stopping Alcohol-related Fatalities Everywhere, or ROADS SAFE. The bill would provide $60 million over five years in funding for research on devices that could detect alcohol on a driver’s breath at the touch of the steering wheel or through other methods, according to the article.

According to the article, the American Beverage Institute opposes the bill because it believes it might discourage responsible social drinking because the devices would be set below the legal blood-alcohol level of 0.08 to account for margin of error.

“Putting alcohol detectors in all cars would effectively eliminate Americans’ ability to have a glass of wine with dinner, a beer at a ballgame or a champagne toast at a wedding. We all want to get dangerous drunk drivers off the roads, but to do this we should focus on policies that target drunk drivers, not all Americans,” said Sarah Longwell, managing director of the ABI.

I agree with Longwell’s argument. I do not want to have my personal freedoms infringed upon because of irresponsible drivers that choose to drive under the influence. It angers me in the same, less threatening way that in elementary school a teacher would punish the whole class for misbehaving even though the deviant behavior is usually done by only a select few.

Although I agree, I cannot overlook the fact that more than 10,800 people were killed in alcohol related crashes in 2009, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website. Could having a device that would prevent drivers under the influence of alcohol from getting behind the wheel save lives? Yes.

According to supporters of the bill, it could save thousands of lives, but simply putting these devices in new cars is not going to do the trick.

First, in the bill, the alcohol detection device is optional. This outlines a weakness of the bill because those people who have the most potential to drive under the influence would probably not choose the optional device.

Second, what about older cars that would not have this technology? Impaired drivers could certainly still endanger others if they get behind the wheel.

There also is the accuracy of the device to consider. The ABI fears the device would catch drivers who might actually have a blood-alcohol level below the legal limit so it can account for margin of error. What is this margin of error going to be? It could prevent drivers who are not legally impaired from getting behind the wheel.

Ultimately, the devices would not be an effective prevention method unless it is mandated that all cars must be equipped with one. At the moment, I am not comfortable having such a device in my car, not because I plan to drive while impaired in the future, but because I feel I should not have my rights infringed because of others’ bad choices.

I understand things can be more complicated, but a good lesson for drivers is to just not get into the car when they are under the influence.

Heather Noel is a junior news-editorial journalism and history double major from Fort Worth.