DUI laws are strictly enforced throughout the nation due to the inherent dangers of driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol. As technological advances continue to shape the automotive industry, so-called smart cars are poised to have an impact on DUI laws and may even eliminate drunk driving. This article is a brief discussion of the new technologies driving the automotive industry and the implications for the legal system.
What are driver alcohol detection systems?
While fully autonomous vehicles are still a work in progress, technologies such as automatic emergency braking and lane keep assist are widely available in most new-model, driver-operated cars. The next generation of technology on the horizon is a system that will prevent cars from operating if the driver is drunk.
Currently, two driver alcohol detection systems are in development. The first is designed to measure blood alcohol levels of a driver’s breath through sensors mounted in front of the driver. The other method being tested would screen for alcohol through an infrared light scanner when the driver touches the start button. Both methods are designed to prevent the car from starting if the driver’s blood alcohol level exceeds the legal limit. Some observers argue that the development of these alcohol detection systems is comparable to the advent of seatbelts in terms of driver safety.
Unlike past ignition lock technologies, these new methods don’t require a driver to blow into a tube in order to start the car. As this juncture, however, the technology is not being considered as a required safety feature for all cars. Instead, driver alcohol detection systems would be marketed as an optional feature that alerts the driver when he or she is intoxicated. As this is a nascent technology, however, it will be another five to eight years before the systems will be available.
What is an ignition interlock device?
An ignition interlock is a device that prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking alcohol. The device functions like a breathalyzer by measuring the alcohol in a driver’s system. The driver blows into the interlock device before starting the vehicle. If the driver’s blood alcohol level is higher than the prescribed limit, the vehicle will not start. The vehicle will also be blocked from starting until an approved breath sample is provided.
Today, a number of states have laws that require the court to order an ignition interlock device when someone is convicted of drunk driving. Of course, the laws vary from state to state with respect to when and for how long the device must be installed. Currently, a number of states, such as New York, Florida and Texas, require interlock devices to be installed after the first conviction. In sum, the driver alcohol detection systems on the drawing board could very well replace the present interlock devices for individuals who have been convicted of DUI.
Why This Matters
Due to the persistently high rates of DUI arrests, convictions — and the related fatalities — throughout the nation, researchers are looking for ways to eliminate drunk driving. The extent to which driver alcohol detection systems and other emerging technologies will advance this effort remains to be seen.
Ultimately, as the alcohol detection technology is fine-tuned and the production of self-driving cars ramps up, lawmakers will need to consider the implications for both tort law and drunk driving prohibitions. Who is liable in an accident involving a fully autonomous vehicle, the driver or the automaker? Can a motorist be charged with DUI for operating a fully autonomous vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol? Should driver alcohol detection systems be made mandatory?
Given the speed at which technology advances, one would hope that these issues are clarified sooner rather than later. In the meantime, intoxicated individuals will continue to get behind the wheel at the risk of causing a serious accident or being arrested. If you are facing DUI charges, you are well advised to speak with an experienced DUI defense attorney.
Author Information: Phil Baker is the founder and managing partner of Phil Baker, P.C.a law firm specializing in DWI and criminal defense litigation. He represents individuals facing criminal charges ranging from single-issue misdemeanors like DWI or possession of marijuana to complex felonies like intoxicated manslaughter or possession of controlled a substance.