Sunday, December 1, 2013

Federal Government to Require Breathalyzers In All Cars?

This week the Los Angeles Times reported that the National Highway Traffic Safety Board is considering requiring the installation of alcohol breathalyzers in all new cars as a way to eliminate or reduce the deaths caused every year by drunk drivers.  The report has raised many questions about the efficacy and costs of such a requirement.

Apparently, the devices would be hard installed in all new cars, as part of the electronic control system.  The hardware would prevent a car from being started or conceivably disable the vehicles engine in the event the driver is determined to be above the legal limit of alcohol, currently .08 in most states.   But questions and concerns have been raised about the reliability of such equipment.  How reliable are they?  Can they be disabled or bypassed in order to allow a drunk driver to start the car?

Personally, I have doubts about the accuracy of the machines as intended.  Most breathalyzer testing machines are designed to capture a sample of the suspect's breath by having the subject blow directly into the instrument.  The device then extrapolates the percentage of alcohol molecules in the captured sample and estimates a blood alcohol level.  If the conceived devices that are being suggested only capture a sample of the air inside the cabin of the vehicle how is that to be linked to the driver?  What if a passenger is drunk?  How will the machine tell is my question.  I guess we will have to wait and see how the devices will be built and operate in a "real world" environment.