New Hampshire lawmakers are always looking to edit DWI law in an attempt to reduce and eliminate the number of fatal accidents drunk drivers cause. Every year lawmakers are given advice from anti-DWI advocacy groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) on ways that these laws can be changed to be more effective. One new technology that is being developed to stop drunk driving once and for all is a system that forces drivers to give a breath sample before being allowed to start their vehicle.
In 2008, the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS) which represents 17 automobile manufacturers, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) joined forces to develop a program called The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety. This program, called DADSS for short, is working to see whether adding alcohol screening devices to all vehicles is a plausible option. The idea behind this program is that if all vehicles required drivers to test their blood alcohol concentrations before they were allowed to drive, there would be no DWI. The program is designed to go through three phases. These phases include:
Phase I – The groups are to research and analyze two different approaches to developing an in-vehicle BAC testing device. The first is a touch based device that measures alcohol in a person's tissue. The second is a breath based device like a breathalyzer which measures the alcohol content in a driver's breath. This phase was completed in 2011.
Phase II – This phase requires additional research and testing of both the touch based and breath based alcohol censoring devices. The purpose of this phase is to improve the accuracy and performance of the devices and get them to meet or exceed the performance specification set out by the DADSS. The final prototypes are to be installed a research vehicle for further testing. This phase is expected to be completed by the end of 2014.
Phase III – This phase will include the final refinement of the technology as well as working out how these technologies can physically be operated and installed in vehicles. More phases may be required after phase III in order to make sure that this technology is feasible. The DADSS is requiring these devices to have a very high level of accuracy and want to make sure that they can seamlessly be adapted to any vehicle. This phase is set to begin at the end of 2014.
The idea behind this program is that once this technology is established advocacy groups can work to make them mandatory in all vehicles. This means that all drivers not just those convicted of DWI will be subject to taking a BAC test every time they start their vehicle. Though this technology is touted as the best way to stop drunk driving fatalities by preventing more than 7000 feel traffic accidents a year due to alcohol impairment, many people are enthusiastic about its adaptation.
These arguments are nothing new. An article in USA Today dating back to 2012 discusses some people's objection to the more than $5 million given by the government to support this program. Most drivers do not want an alcohol detection system in their vehicle weather they plan on drinking and driving or not. As Sarah Longwell, the managing director of the American Beverage Institute (ABI) stated:
"Spending lots of taxpayer dollars to develop alcohol-sensing technology that can come as standard equipment in all cars is a misuse of these funds,"
One major concern with this technology is that an error could occur causing a driver who is not under the influence to be unable to operate their vehicle in an emergency. Longwell gives concern that the device will measure, not for a BAC of the legal limit of .08, but for a lower limit around .02 or .03. The reason for this is that, after consuming an alcoholic beverage, a person's BAC continues to rise for some time. If someone consumes a drink immediately before driving, their BAC may be under .08 but then increase to over the legal limit as they are operating the vehicle. While this is a good way to stop all DWI drivers, it also means that some drivers with low BACs will not be able to operate their vehicles either. Accuracy of these devices also causes some concern. Even if these tests are 99% reliable, they can still fail 1% of the time meaning some people will not be allowed to operate the vehicles or a drunk driver may not be stopped.