Updated on February 5th, 2024 at 08:51 pm

Driving is a freedom, a responsibility, and sometimes a risk. And when someone decides to pick up their keys after a few drinks, the danger increases manifold. For someone keen on adhering to road rules, you’ll be pleased to know that there’s a new law that’ll reduce the instances of drunk driving.

According to Biden’s IIJA (Investment and Infrastructure and Jobs Act) bill, by 2025 all new cars will have advanced alcohol monitoring technology. With the integration of this cutting-edge technology, vehicles made in 2026 and after that won’t just be about speed or luxury; they will prioritize safety at an unprecedented level.

The new law doesn’t define the type of technology to implement this layer of safety against drunk driving; instead, it leaves that to the NHTSA to determine. However, it outlines what they expect the technology to do.

Why is alcohol monitoring being added to newly manufactured vehicles?

The concept revolves around employing cutting-edge technology to combat the problem of drunk driving with the primary goal of “preserving lives.” The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is advocating for the incorporation of blood alcohol monitoring systems in all new vehicles manufactured in the United States, enabling them to intervene and prevent individuals from driving while intoxicated.

According to the NHTSA, 31% of all traffic fatalities involve an impaired driver with a BAC level of 0.08 or higher. Data gathered in 2021 revealed that 13,384 people died due to these accidents. Between 2012 and 2021, an average of 10,850 people died daily from drunk-driving-related accidents.

Putting this into perspective, despite drunk driving being illegal in every US state, one person dies from drunk driving accidents every 39 minutes in 2021! Fortunately, the President’s Biden decision to mandate alcohol monitoring devices in new cars is a proactive approach to dealing with this longstanding problem.

What should the impaired driving prevention technology do?

Drunk driving detection technology should prevent cars from operating when they identify a driver who is Alcohol-impaired. It should also warn other drivers when it detects risky driving.

The bill doesn’t dive deep into the specifics of the technology, but it requires that it does the following:

  • Monitor driver performance passively to accurately determine if they are impaired and limit or prevent the vehicle from operating if the system detects driver impairment.
  • To accurately or passively detect the blood alcohol concentration of drivers that’s higher or equal to the legal limit and prevent vehicle operation if it’s above the limit.

According to MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), drunk driving prevention technology should only collect personal identification information like facial recognition or data like blood alcohol content to either safely bring a moving vehicle to a stop or prevent the car from being driven by an intoxicated driver.

It’s no easy feat, but with the existing technologies, MADD believes the timeline for implementation is quite reasonable.

How drunk driving impairment technology in cars will work

The technology can be implemented through sensors and cameras outside and inside a vehicle to monitor driving performance and the driver’s eye and head movements, respectively. There could also be alcohol sensors to determine intoxication.

The stakeholders believe the technology implementation can be split into three categories:

  • Breath-based systems: Most alcohol monitoring devices rely on a breathalyzer-like mechanism to measure the driver’s blood alcohol level. The driver must breathe into a built-in sensor in the motor vehicle’s dashboard. If the BAC reading exceeds the legal limit, the ignition system will be disabled, preventing the car from starting.
  • Touch-based systems: Some advanced systems can measure alcohol levels through touch-based sensors, such as steering wheels or gear shifters. These sensors will shine infrared light on the driver’s palm or fingertips to detect alcohol through the skin, making the process even more seamless.
  • Continuous monitoring: These devices will check BAC levels before the vehicle starts and continuously monitor the driver throughout the journey. If the system detects a rise in BAC above the legal limit while the vehicle is in motion, it can activate visual and audible alerts and potentially slow down the car or safely bring it to a stop.

Note: It should be clear that the passive systems won’t be simple ignition interlock devices or breathalyzers. Instead, they’ll be smart technology.

Concerns about the new DUI Detection Technology

Some people are concerned about possible malfunction where the device gives inaccurate results, false negatives, or positives. Moreover, the cost of having the new technology in every car will be passed on to the consumer. This means that individuals without DUIs or who don’t indulge in alcohol will pay extra for the technology they’ll never or rarely use.

The false positives could be a result of dietary factors. Certain foods and substances, such as mouthwash, can temporarily increase alcohol levels in a person’s breath, leading to false positives. On the other hand, a person with a high BAC might not be detected if they mask the odor with mints or other products, resulting in false negatives.

It could also be due to medical conditions: Some medical conditions, like diabetes or acid reflux, can affect breathalyzer results, potentially leading to inaccurate readings.

Critics also argue that the requirement for alcohol monitoring devices may limit access to transportation for individuals who depend on older vehicles or cannot afford new ones. This could result in unintended consequences, such as reduced mobility for specific populations.

Aside from the above, there are also concerns over:

  • Ethical considerations – The mandate implies a presumption of guilt for all drivers until they prove otherwise through the breath alcohol monitoring system. This may raise ethical concerns about reversing the burden of proof.
  • Creative ways to circumvent: There is concern that some individuals may find creative ways to circumvent the system, such as having a sober passenger provide a breath sample to start the vehicle or tampering with the device.

Understand DUI Laws

There’s no denying that the requirement to install alcohol impairment detection systems in vehicles by 2025 is a monumental step toward addressing the ongoing issue of drunk driving deaths. This initiative combines technology, safety, and accountability to create a safer driving environment for everyone. However, as outlined above, significant moral, constitutional, and practical obstacles exist to implementing such systems.

With the new layer of safety, DUI charges are bound to get more interesting. In such situations, you’ll need an experienced OWI attorney who stays on top of the ever-changing impairment laws.

Nathan J. Dineen, Attorney At Law, is the one to call if you have been charged as an alcohol-impaired driver in Milwaukee, West Bend, Sturgeon Bay, Germantown, Appleton, or Sister Bay.  If you’re currently facing a DUI charge, contact us today for a consultation.