Mandatory In-Car Breathalyzers Coming?

By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist

If you’re not a convicted drunk driver, should you still be required to have an in-car breathalyzer fitted (at your expense, ‘natch) to your next new vehicle?

Apparently, some automakers — including GM and Toyota — think so. They and a few others are working together under the auspices of something called the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, which is a $10 million federal “research program” that is trying to develop just such technology for mass introduction a few years from now.

At the moment, the only people who have to deal with (and pay for) in-car Breathalyzers are convicted drunks; the devices are basically ignition locks that prevent the vehicle’s engine from being started until the would-be driver blows into the tube and the system determines he’s not liquored up.

But by 2012 or so, in-car breath sniffers could be standard equipment in every new vehicle sold, force-fed to you by the tag team of Washington, Detroit and, of course, the ever-busy Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

No conviction necessary.

Advocates say the technology under development would be “less intrusive.” Instead of making the driver blow into a little tube like they make you do at those roadside “sobriety checkpoints,” a system of passive alcohol sensors would be fitted to the car that could take a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) reading via a person’s skin — as when your hand touches the shifter or steering wheel. This “quiet” approach is supposed to make us feel better about being pre-convicted and treated like known and duly processed irresponsible drunks every single time we get behind the wheel of a car.

It doesn’t work for me.

I dislike drunk drivers as much as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (is anyone actually for drunk driving)? But I certainly do object to policies and regulations that impose cost and hassle and arguably, petit tyranny, on people who have done absolutely nothing to warrant it.

This isn’t about nannyism so much as it is about upending a few basic bedrock Western ideas about criminal justice, rights and responsibilities. Chief among these being that each of us gets treated as a specific individual.

If we do something wrong, we get specifically held accountable for it;  the guy next door who had nothing to do with it isn’t dragged along for the ride. But that’s just what is happening here — indeed, has already happened — from those so-called “sobriety checkpoints” (which mostly “check”  perfectly sober drivers) to the growing kudzu of “primary enforcement” seat belts laws that pester (and ticket) people for not wearing a seat belt, an action that may not be especially smart on an individual level but which has very little to do with the safety or well-being of others.

What’s even worse than these growing harassments, however, is how few object to them on principle.

Perhaps it’s because of the continuous dumbing-down of the populace, which knows all about Lindsay Lohan’s latest bender and who’s the latest finalist on American Idol but no longer understands that the ends don’t justify the means — and that down that road lies much worse than henpecky tickets and having to pay a few more bucks for your next new car as a result of some government mandate.

People used to get that; today, most don’t seem to. It’s the only way to explain the tsunami-like effectiveness of the word, “safety” — which doesn’t have to be specifically defined, quantified, subjected to cost-benefit analysis or throttled back by the once-superior claim of the individual’s “personal bubble of authority” — where he or she formerly reigned supreme, free of the suffocating and endless edicts of others who claim their evaluation of a perceived risk trumps your personal right to choose.

Just say “safety” (and for added emphasis, include “our children”) and no objection can be sustained.

This latest bit of ugliness burbling up from the stinkpot of government-corporate do-gooderism is merely a symptom of the underlying canker that is our ignorance — and acquiescence.

Earlier generations of Americans would have said, “Hold on a minute. I haven’t been convicted of driving drunk; hell, I’ve never even been suspected of it. Why in the world should I be required to buy an alcohol sniffer to check me out before I drive?” They would have insisted on tough punishment for the specific dimwit who got behind the wheel of a car impaired by booze. But they would have insisted, with equal toughness, that everyone else be left the hell alone to go about their business in peace.

Today, however, the siren song of saaaaaaaaafety is like a secular version of the prayer call in Muslim countries. When people hear it, they automatically fall down on their knees en masse and begin to worship.

God may be great — but “safety” is rapidly gaining ground on him.


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