This article came across my desk this morning…Every Car Made After 2027 May Have Drunk Driving Monitoring System
Long story short - the infrastructure bill that we've heard so much about recently has a tiny little clause stuck way, way deep inside of it that would require every car manufactured in 2027 and beyond to have a system that would prevent the car from operating if any alcohol is detected. Now, before you start to think that everybody is going to have an Ignition Interlock Device (IID)
installed on their car, the bill mentions that it would be a passive
system. So how would it work?
Well… Like always, that part they haven't figured out.
One method would be a button on a push-to-start system monitoring blood alcohol levels through touch… Currently I don't know of any reliable test that uses that sort of technology. Still this is six years down the road, so maybe it's possible. I've said many times on this blog that I am not a lawyer, but in this instance I will add that I am also not a scientist. The other would be a breath monitoring system that would act like a constant breathalyzer scanning the air for alcohol particles, even being able to, supposedly, be able to determine if the alcohol in the air is from the driver and not a passenger. We'll see what happens when a drink passenger gets in and puts their favorite song on, the one they just have to listen to right now
, and starts belting out the lyrics as hard as can be.
I'm sure they're considering all these factors, but… I'll believe it when I see it. Our current IID machines aren't great - resulting in false positives from such things as eating bananas or onions. There's no oversight established yet, so who knows how this will go. The car manufacturers love it because it's another thing they can charge for and it further absolves them of any responsibility.
An excellent point made in the article "Given such a technology would likely be used hundreds of millions of times every single day if mandated, an error rate of even .01 percent would result in millions of mistakes a day." I can't imagine the chaos that would ensue from the early adopters just months in. If you can't get to work because of a false positive and lose your job, you may be able to sue Ford, or Subaru, or whoever for damages. I'm sure they will not be happy with that.
Fortunately, the transportation secretary can delay this requirement if the technology isn't ready - so if they never get there or autonomous cars take over completely by then, this will all be moot.
So, this provision may be the greatest change to automobiles in recent memory or a bunch of wishful thinking.
There's some additional concerns however-
Vice's article mentions that police often get warrants to search the car's onboard computers, and these computers collect a lot
of data that the driver doesn't realize - everything from whether the car was in motion without your seatbelt fastened to your complete driving history in cars with onboard GPS. Theoretically one could get into an accident and have this data pulled and used against them to show that there was a detectable amount of alcohol below shutdown level and have that information used in a lawsuit against the driver, or used by insurance to disqualify a claim. This aspect I'm not as confident that they will work out before implementation. There's supposedly measures in place to protect your privacy, but time and time again these have been hacked or simply obtained through legal measures. The reassurances they put out are not reassuring.
With an onboard breathalyzer in place people who haven't been through the system, like us, will also be given a level of confidence they may not have had earlier. The device will be able to detect alcohol, but there's no word on whether it will be able to detect other intoxicants - and given that it's been this difficult and taken this long to detect just alcohol, and the provision only requiring alcohol testing - it's unlikely that feature will be involved. So, a person may start their car and easily assume they are ok to drive when they could be under the influence of anything from marijuana to PCP to ecstasy to being sleepy to being mad about a football game or their partner leaving them. A person using their car can get drunk, not be able to start their car and realize they're not ok to drive. The next week they get loaded on Xanax, get in their car, have it start up, and think, "I'm good to go" when that isn't the case. I'm not sure what messaging will surround the system (and to be frank, this far out nobody is), but I'm sure it will not get into the nuances of what constitutes "being ok to drive". There may be a lot of bad unintended consequences from giving somebody this false sense of ability.
One last issue I had - a lot of the descriptions put these systems as rendering the car unable to start, but able to turn on so that somebody can charge their phone, get out of the cold, etc. While good in theory, it overlooks one big aspect of DUI law that many of us know all too well: you don't have to be driving the car, you don't have to be in the front seat, you don't have to even be in your car to get a DUI. Many, many, many people are arrested for DUIs for doing the responsible thing and sleeping off the alcohol in their back seats, or have been drunk outside their car without the intention to drive, but in possession of their keys. This is another false sense of security that will be given to a lot
of people. "Oh, my car has the alcohol system installed, I'll just chill in the backseat for an hour or two until I'm ready to drive". A lot of people don't realize how far-reaching DUI laws are. I'm guessing that within a few years of this program being implemented non-driving DUIs will outpace actual driving DUIs. But as well know all-too-well, DUIs are a cash cow for the states
, so they wouldn't want to kill the golden goose now, would they?
This would only apply to new cars, so 2026 cars would not be required to have this technology installed if it gets to become install-worthy. However, if the technology is available, reliable, and auto manufacturers like it, it may be difficult to purchase a new car without this feature much earlier than it's legally required (like backup cams and large distracting screens were ubiquitous). Some may hold on to older vehicles and keep them on the road in the name of "freedom".
We all want to live in a world where people don't drive drunk. Especially those of us who have had to face the consequences from those actions. However, is merely forcing this technology on everyone going to be enough? This technology can easily leave somebody, possibly sober, stranded in a precarious and unsafe position. Is this technology going to be reasonable if we do not improve things like public transportation or ridesharing availability
to reach people in areas that aren't heavily trafficked? Will people resort to circumventing or disabling the system through shady means out of sheer need? Why do a lot of DUIs happen? Because people don't have options, they're scared of getting their car towed, or a hefty ticket when they leave their car overnight. They're worried they won't be able to get home and they're stuck somewhere they don't want to be. They're worried about fulfilling obligations and don't see another way. Where are the solutions on this end?
It's a lot to think about. Hopefully some of these gets resolved before (if) it all gets implemented. Hopefully more attention to this will lead to some more intense examination of this provision and its consequences.
Of course, with the infrastructure bill in constant limbo, it might not even make it to the final bill. If not, I would expect a similar legislation, either on its own or attached to something else, to be pushed through relatively quickly.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, and I've created a discussion thread on substack (where you can subscribe to the SAD newsletter)
where you can chime in and give your perspective:No More DUIs in 2027? discussion