Drunken driving is on the floor of Congress again, in a concerning new ruling.
Congress has mandated that automakers find a high-tech way to prevent intoxicated people from driving cars. The mandate comes in the midst of a cluster of new spending and lawmaking around auto safety, some of it attacking old problems and some seeking solutions to new problems like making sure the road code is ready for self-driving vehicles.
The legislation doesn’t specify the technology or what form it might take, only that it must “passively monitor the performance of a driver of a motor vehicle to accurately identify whether that driver may be impaired.”
Currently, some convicted drunk drivers must use active monitoring devices, like a breath-analyzing interlock attached to their ignition, to be allowed to drive. But that is a function of a criminal sentence or a deferment program. In other words, it’s reserved for people who have previously been caught driving under the influence.
What Congress is demanding is that drivers with no prior record of misconduct be monitored at all times while driving. According to technology experts, the most likely method for this will be an infrared camera aimed at the driver’s face, programmed to recognize patterns of inebriation. Similar technology is already in cars made by GM, BMW, Nissan, Tesla, and Audi to track driver attentiveness while using semi-automated driving.
It’s one thing for this technology to be a feature included in what are currently luxury cars. It’s another for it to be a legal mandate in all new vehicles, which is on the horizon if allowed to stand. We already have a history of infrared cameras on hand-free facilities not recognizing people of color, or misinterpreting the movements of disabled people.
Drunken driving is a massive issue. But a car fully capable of saying “I can’t do that, Dave,” because your eyes wandered or you were head-bobbing to your favorite tune as you got in is not the answer.