The Government in Your Dashboard

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) thinks states ought to require ignition interlock as a condition of driving for anyone convicted of DWI, including first-time offenders.  So does the U.S. Congress.  The NTSB made its recommendation last week as part of its report on a special investigation into vehicle crashes occurring as a result of wrong-way driving. And a provision of the highway safety bill adopted by Congress last summer provides grants to states that require ignition interlock for everyone convicted of DWI.  Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, Pub. L. 112-141.

North Carolina currently requires ignition interlock as a condition of regaining a driver’s license for persons whose licenses were revoked for a DWI conviction and who (1) had an alcohol concentration of 0.15 or more; (2) were convicted of another offense involving impaired diving within seven years of the offense for which the person’s license is revoked; or (3) were sentenced at Aggravated Level One, the highest level of punishment for a misdemeanor DWI.  G.S. 20-17.8.  So our state’s ignition interlock requirements would have to be expanded to comply with the NTSB recommendation and to render North Carolina eligible for the newly authorized grant funding.

The NTSB concluded that installing ignition interlocks on the vehicles of all DWI offenders would reduce accidents caused by alcohol-impaired drivers.  But the board’s recommendations related to in-vehicle alcohol detection systems extended beyond this group of identified offenders. The NTSB recommended that car manufacturers and the government accelerate the development of in-vehicle technology to prevent alcohol-impaired driving. The Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration already are working to develop such technology through a cooperative research agreement dubbed the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) program.

The DADSS program assumes that current interlock systems would not be acceptable for widespread use among the public because they require drivers to provide breath samples by blowing into a device every time they attempt to start their vehicles.  DADSS has identified two less intrusive alternatives.  The first is a touch-based approach that would measure the alcohol concentration in a person’s skin.  The second would employ sensors in a vehicle to measure a driver’s exhaled breath.

Elon University law professor Michael Rich opined in this article published in The New York Times that the DADSS program might be one of the limited instances in which the government can employ technology to prevent crime without unduly burdening individual freedom.  Michael L. Rich, The Perfect Non-Crime, The New York Times, August 6, 2012. Professor Rich reasoned that because impaired driving is forbidden regardless of the actor’s state of mind, government action that makes the crime impossible to commit (by disabling the car’s ignition) does not impermissibly intrude upon the free will of the driver.

Still, there are some who find objectionable the idea of this kind of in-vehicle technology.  Readers, share your views on the matter through this on-line poll.

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