The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that 2018 saw 10,511 fatalities due to alcohol-related traffic incidents. The year recorded 36,560 total traffic fatalities, a 2.4 percent decrease from 2017. This means that alcohol was involved in just under 30 percent of the total traffic deaths that the country experienced.
Some have called drunk driving a “serious epidemic”, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that over 111,000 incidents of drunk driving occur each year. While this means that less than 1 percent of the trips of inebriated drivers result in accident deaths, those incidents that do result in this way are devastating to many families.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) estimated that the financial toll from drunk driving was $132 billion in 2011. That year saw 9,878 who lost their lives as the result of alcohol-related traffic incidents, leading to an average of over $13 million lost for each of these deaths. Based on this average from a decade ago, the toll of drunk driving in 2018 reached almost $140.5 billion.
These facts have caused a push for control of the “epidemic” and for new ways to stop inebriated drivers. This push has resulted in decreased limits for persons to be considered intoxicated – many states lowered their “limit” from a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of .10 percent, or one-part alcohol for every 1000 parts blood, to .08 percent. It has also led to some states combining their “Under the Influence” (UI) laws with their “While Intoxicated” (WI) laws to provide the same penalties for driving UI as if full intoxication was in effect.
Depending on the person, as few as one drink can cause a “buzz,” or an inebriated situation that brings in compromised judgment and delayed reactions. Two drinks can place a person in a state of full intoxication, with five drinks placing some in danger of a medical emergency. The more drinks consumed, the farther the judgment fades, causing an inebriated or intoxicated person to not realize how impaired they truly are.
While ride-sharing services such as Uber, Lyft, and others have contributed to lowering alcohol-related traffic fatalities by 6.1 percent in recent years per the National Bureau of Economic Research, someone dies as the result of an alcohol-related traffic incident every 50 seconds in the U.S. according to the CDC.
In response to calls for governmental action, the U.S. Congress has included around $17 billion to road safety programs as part of the $1 trillion so-called “Infrastructure Bill” that has passed Congress and is expected to be signed by U.S President Joe Biden. Touted by the Eno Center for Transportation as “the biggest increase in such funding in decades,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg indicated a lot of this funding would be directed toward “more protected bike paths and greener spaces built into roadways.” Still, Alex Ottie, National President of MADD lauded the legislation as “the beginning of the end of drunk driving.”
What has Ottie placing such praise on this action is a mandate included in the bill that auto manufacturers include with vehicles as early as 2026 systems that “passively monitor the performance of a driver of a motor vehicle to accurately identify whether that driver may be impaired.” This mandate requires that the manufacturers find “a high-tech way to keep drunken people from driving cars.”
Often sold as “after-market” products, breathalyzer ignition locks have long been required by some judges for those who have been convicted of drunk driving. This legislation would place similar devices, albeit likely with new technology, in every vehicle regardless of the owner’s or driver’s history. With the price tag of a “basic” breathalyzer ignition lock system beginning at around $600, this is likely to add no less than $1000 to the cost of a car. This then, according to opponents of the plan, penalizes the majority of drivers who do not drive under the influence to prevent an “epidemic” of which they are not a part.
Generally, these systems operate through a breathalyzing operation that requires a person to blow into a tube, similar to a roadside breathalyzer used by police to determine sobriety, for the system to determine the person’s BAC. It is based on the reading from this breathalyzing that the system then determines whether ignition of the engine is authorized or not. As the vehicle is driven, the system may periodically request additional breathalyzing, on the pretense of ensuring that the driver is not consuming alcohol while driving.
In an honorable attempt to stop the scourge of drunk driving, Congress has agreed through the Infrastructure Bill to cause sober drivers an inconvenience by having to use a similar situation in order to start their vehicles and continue operating them.
The measure included in the Infrastructure Bill will create even more governmental control over how private persons operate their own vehicles, without cause in a large majority of the cases. It will not only cause inconvenience but also result in a pseudo-tax on vehicles through a government-mandated cost increase to vehicles.