Whether you think this is a good thing or another step towards a “Big Brother” future, there is an effort to make drunk driving detection a standard feature in all new cars.  New technologies allow impaired driving detection through sensors that can monitor the driver’s eye movement as well as touch and breath sensors that detect alcohol. We already have breath sensors (Ignition Interlock Devices (IIDS)) that many who are convicted of drunk driving are required to install. Reportedly there are approximately 250 such technologies which use smell, touch, camera and/or audio or visual detection.  New regulations may mean that in the future all new cars will be required to install some sort of impaired driving device.

Congress has passed a bill that requires the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) to issue a regulation by 2026 that all new passenger vehicles include equipment that monitors for impairment of the driver. This does not mean that all 2026 passenger vehicles are going to be equipped with this technology; the 2026 deadline-if it holds-only requires the NHTSA to issue a regulation.

If the vehicle detects impairment, the new cars must include a means for limiting the driver’s further operation of the vehicle. It is not clear by what mechanism the car could limit the operation of the vehicle. The provision terms the requirement “a national safety standard for passive, advanced impaired driving prevention system.” Some fear that there will be a remote-controlled or automatic “kill switch”. This is unfounded but not outside the realm of possibility since the NHSTA hasn’t issued the regulations yet.  Obviously, the car won’t be disabled amidst traffic. But whatever the technology, it will likely be some form of continuous driver monitoring.

While it is anticipated that these new regulations will drastically reduce the number of drunk driving collisions, injuries, and deaths – obviously a good thing – there are also concerns about privacy and false positives. There could also be unintended consequences if a vehicle is disabled in an unsafe location. Additionally, does this mean the driver will be subject to an arrest? Presumably, once a vehicle is disabled, law enforcement is alerted. Will drivers attempt to vacate the vehicle to evade arrest, causing additional dangers? What about abuse of these technologies? Will the technologies provide opportunities for malicious hacking?  And it goes without saying that some of the technologies may be easy to game, such as those that only require detection before ignition.

At the same time, i.e., the near future, autonomous cars will be ubiquitous. These cars are already operating in some test cities. How autonomous cars will interface with the new regulations is yet to be determined. One thing is sure: We are stepping into a driving future that, if nothing else, will see a steep decline in impaired driving.

Orange County drunk driving defense attorney William Weinberg is available for a free consultation to discuss your impaired driving case. He may be contacted at his Irvine office at 949-474-8008 or by emailing him at

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