A Problematic New Car Safety Feature Each year, state and federal governments – along with grassroots activists and non-profits – look for ways to reduce the number of drunk drivers on the roads. They do this legislation, through tougher laws for DUI offenses, by setting up check stops, and more. The latest effort is a new piece of vehicle technology: alcohol detection sensors.

The government is working on legislation that will require alcohol detection sensors in every new vehicle. These sensors can be in the form of a breathalyzer or touch sensors that read your blood alcohol content (BAC) levels. The idea of these sensors is that if you have a BAC level of over .08 percent, then the car will become undrivable, thus keeping drivers off the road. This technology could be in every car as early as 2026.

On its face, it seems like a good idea; drunk driving is dangerous, and reducing the number of drunk drivers on the road is a noble goal. But as we probe deeper, we cannot help but think this new tech will cause more problems than it ends.

Why are alcohol detection sensors a problem?

One of the major problems for alcohol detection sensors is the same problem that ignition interlock devices (IIDs) face: false positives. Imagine needing your car for some emergency, like your wife going into labor or your child being injured at school, only for the sensor to detect your mouthwash on your breath, and then render your car undriveable.

Another potential issue with alcohol detection sensors is the speed with which they’ll be built. Right now, the government is mandating the use of a technology that isn’t fully ready; per WTHR 13, it has been in the works for close to a decade, and they are still finessing it for commercial vehicles. The goal is to have it ready by 2024 – but what if it’s not? The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) Program even admits that producing the tech – is a real challenge:

Developing a sensor that can positively, quickly, reliably, and accurately measure a driver’s blood alcohol concentration – without inconveniencing the sober driver – has never been attempted before. Part of the research includes inventing completely new equipment that also never existed before to rigorously test the alcohol sensors. It also means inventing the test methods and protocols for making measurements in the part–per–billion range, the test devices for making those measurements, and the acceptance limits. As an added challenge, the sensor must be small enough to fit seamlessly into a motor vehicle; sensitive enough to measure ultra–low concentrations of alcohol; intelligent enough to distinguish between the driver and any passengers; and rugged enough to work every day of a vehicle’s 20–year life span, in all types of environmental conditions, and with little to no maintenance. And finally, it must be mass producible in automotive quantities to automotive quality standards.

The chances are very good that this tech will be rushed through design and production, increasing the risk of a defect. What happens if the system fails while you’re driving? Will it shut down in the middle of the road? And if so, who is legally liable if you are injured because another vehicle hit you after your car stopped in the middle of Rte 50 during rush hour?

Finally, we have concerns about installing unnecessary surveillance software and hardware in vehicles. If a sensor detects the presence of alcohol, what happens next? Is a report generated? Where does this report go? Will this data be grounds for a search in the eyes of law enforcement? Can it be used to get a warrant? What if someone else tries to start the car: will you be held accountable? If we learned anything from Van Buren, we know that law enforcement will access agency data for their own needs. We simply want to know how the data can be accessed, by whom, and when.

There are plenty of reasons why the government should truly consider whether or not these sorts of alcohol detection sensors should be on every new vehicle. The devices can be intrusive, and they may require consistent check-ups and repairs, which can be expensive.

What are the penalties for driving under the influence in Maryland?

Depending on your BAC and whether or not this is your first drunk driving conviction, the penalties may vary:

  • BAC of .08 to .14: If you are convicted of drunk driving while having a BAC of .08-.14, you may have your license suspended for up to 180 days, or you may have to have an ignition interlock device (an alcohol detection sensor) installed onto your car for up to a year at your expense. If you are a first-time offender, Maryland offers a “work permit” license, which means you can use your car to get to and from necessary locations such as work, counseling sessions, and any medical treatments. Repeat offenders are not eligible for work permits.
  • BAC of .15 and above: If you are convicted of having a BAC of .15 or above while driving, you again may have to suffer through a 180-day license suspension and an IID installed on your car. The work permit license is not applicable with a BAC of .15 or higher. If you are a repeat offender, your license may be suspended for 270 days instead of 180.

A drunk driving charge can affect your life in more ways than just a license suspension. It can affect whether or not you get the job you want, get to attend the school you hope to go to, and get the life you planned on leading. Keeping our roads safe is important, but we should make sure we understand the technology we wish to put into our cars, and know the flaws they have. Alcohol detection sensors may seem like a good idea, but we have concerns about mandating a tech that isn’t ready.

If you are facing a DUI charge, you want a Bowie and Crofton DUI defense lawyer that is experienced and dedicated enough to help you during this stressful time. If you have been convicted of a DUI and are required to get an IID on your vehicle, the Carey Law Office has a close working relationship with a major IID installation company in Maryland. Because of this, we have been able to secure a special installation rate for our clients. Choosing our firm to represent you can save you up to $226 dollars on the entire device. Just make sure to bring a copy of your form from our office to the IID installer. They should waive the cost of installation and the first month’s installation fee.

Contact Carey Law Office if you have been charged with driving under the influence. With offices located in Bowie, Crofton, and Owings, we always close by when you need us most. Call us at 301-464-2500 or use our contact page to set up a consultation now. Also serving Calvert County.