On New Year’s Day 2021 in Central California, a driver with twice the legal limit of 0.08% blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in his system was speeding at approximately 90 mph on a two-lane roadway. He lost control of his vehicle and crossed over the centerline causing a head-on collision with a truck traveling in the other lane. In the truck was one adult and seven children. The collision caused the truck to combust and all eight occupants in the truck died, as did the drunk driver.

This tragic incident and many that preceded it, prompted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to recommend that all new vehicles be required to be equipped with an alcohol impairment detection system. According to the NHTSA one in three traffic fatalities involve an impaired driver. AT present, there is no standard chemical testing for cannabis impairment or a in-field method for detecting drug impairment, such devices, such as ignition interlock devices (IID),  are primarily effective for alcohol impairment. However, there is already technology that can detect whether a driver is alert by tracking the driver’s face and eyes and by lane veering. Such technology not only detects impairment but whether a driver is dozing off or otherwise to inattentive to drive safely.

The NHTSA has actually gone one step beyond recommending that vehicle manufacturers incorporate these devices and has asked that the federal government require that all new vehicles be equipped with these devices. The NHTSA is likely to see its recommendations become law.

Federal legislation signed into law in 2021 already requires new safety standards for smart technology in new passenger vehicles be equipped with advanced crash avoidance technologies. That legislation further states that within three years of enactment of the legislation, the transportation secretary shall issue a final rule as to whether passenger motor vehicles will be required to be equipped with “advanced drunk and impaired driving technology.” At this point, it is almost a given that federal legislation requiring these devices will be enacted within a decade, probably less.

These devices may be like the ignition interlock device currently required for many, if not most drivers in California who have been arrested for DUI and found by the DMV to have been driving under the influence of alcohol. Or there could be other technologies offered by the car manufacturers.

The NTSB further recommends that the national BAC be lowered to 0.05%. At present, only Utah has lowered the threshold to 0.05%. California, like all other states, has a 0.08% BAC threshold.

Practically speaking, the requirement for such devices will substantially decrease drunk driving…but it will likely take many years. Most cars on the road will not have such devices until there is enough turn over of used cars. As more cars on the road are equipped, more drivers will think twice before going out for drinks without a get-home-backup-plan. Imagine going out with friends for a few beers and then finding you can’t start your car.

Impaired driving is one of the biggest hazards on the road and while these devices may seem like a “Brave New World” intrusion, it is hard to argue that they won’t be a net good.

Orange County DUI defense attorney warns you to never drive while impaired, but if you do find yourself arrested for driving under the influence, he will vigorously defend you on the charges. If you have been arrested for impaired driving, Mr. Weinberg is available for a free consultation to discuss your options. You may contact Mr. Weinberg at his Irvine office at 949-474-8008 or by emailing him at bill@williamweinberg.com.

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