No one disputes that drunk driving is an important and potentially deadly issue. After all, it’s the largest cause of motor deaths in the U.S.A., causing nearly 13,000 deaths annually.
We’ve all heard the horrific stories: the mother who drove the wrong way on the highway with her nieces in the car; Nikki Catsouras, the infamous “Porsche Girl”; and the list goes on. In trying to solve this problem, authorities have tried creating limits to public alcohol intoxication (legal blood alcohol content) and stricter punishments. Additionally, laws such as Leandra’s Law make it a felony to drive drunk with a child under 15 in the car.
When these didn’t have the dramatic effect in decreasing drunk driving that the public and authorities had hoped, many were left scratching their heads and scrambling for answers. Now, many are proposing that car breathalyzers are the best solution to this problem.
In theory, car breathalyzers are an excellent idea. Car breathalyzers, also known as an ignition interlock device, require drivers to breathalyze before starting their cars. If the breathalyzer detects a set level of alcohol, the car will not start. Currently, they are most commonly implemented in cars of DUI convicts and are equipped with devices that supposedly prevent unauthorized people from breathalyzing for the driver. The hope is that these devices will prevent deadly accidents and costly situations. However, car breathalyzers are relatively ineffective in practice.
Many of the ideas proposed with interlock devices are desirable, but fallible. Firstly, the level of alcohol at which the car is shut off is not at a uniform level. For some states this level could be .025, and for others it could be .08. Although there are supposed implementations to prevent other people from giving samples, I highly doubt their accuracy – I’ve breathalyzed for more than a few friends, and none of their cars recognized the difference.
Most importantly, breathalyzers can’t detect drugs. Most of the times that I’ve breathalyzed for friends, I’ve been under the influence: Xanax, marijuana, heroin.
Did the car recognize any of that? Of course it didn’t.
Someone who’s under the influence of drugs isn’t any better suited to be on the road than someone who’s drunk. In fact, someone who’s had a single beer is much better suited to the road than someone who’s under the influence of drugs. Although the car breathalyzer may, in fact, lower the rates of some drunk driving, it doesn’t really change the bigger picture.
At the end of the day, no matter how many new things the general public and authorities try to implement to curb problematic situations like these, people will find ways around it. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try – only that breathalyzers in cars aren’t the magic cure, any more than legal limits, random road checks, or new laws were.
In the end, if people are determined to do something, they will do it.
alcoholalert.com. “What is a Car Breathalyzer?” n.d. 25 January 2013.
Fanelli, James. “New state law requires DWI convicts to pass breathalyzer test before driving car.” nydailynews.com. 15 August 2010. 25 January 2013.
Szezesny, Joseph R. “Coming Soon: A Breathalyzer in Every Car?” time.com. 01 July 2009. 25 January 2013.
Filed under: Substance Abuse · Tags: breathalyzer, Driving under the influence, Drunk Driving, DUI, ignition interlock device, Leandra’s Law, legal blood alcohol content, Nikki Catsouras, “Porsche Girl, ” alcohol intoxication