Opinion

FoodPolitik: Big Brother in your back seat

Richard Berman President, Berman and Company

Remember the Tom Cruise movie “Minority Report?” It was the one where the “Precrime” police unit armed with new technology arrested you before you committed a future crime they could detect.

Fast forward to today’s self appointed traffic cops. In their ideal future, any automobile you’ll purchase will have an in-car alcohol detector to stop you from “drinking and driving” before you get the opportunity. (Despite drunken driving fatalities being at an all time low, i.e., one per every 274,244,948 miles driven, some activists can’t rest until they can get to every last drop).

To be clear, I’m not talking about or objecting to attempts to stop drunk driving. But in activists’ future world, your car won’t start even if you were drinking below the current level for arrest. Physiological factors and liability concerns dictate that these detection devices will be set well below the current legal limit of .08 percent blood alcohol concentration (BAC) — possibly as low as .02 or .03.

Today’s nanny-state advocates are pressing Congress to spend another $60 million of your money for additional research into this technology, to stop you from having a glass of wine with dinner before you get behind the wheel.

Debt crisis? What debt crisis?

Known as DADSS (Driver Alcohol Detector System for Safety), the technology uses a variety of passive air sampling and touch sensors to determine drivers’ BAC through their skin and breath.

Proponents of the technology suggest that these devices stop drunks from driving. They also incredulously deny that the installation of such devices in cars will be mandatory.

Can you imagine that habitual drunk drivers will voluntarily opt to have these devices installed when they order a new car?  Even someone who just arrived in Washington can figure out how this one ends.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is on record stating that “the goal over time is to equip all passenger vehicles in the United States with the technology.” Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s immediate past president said that “a long-term goal [is] to make alcohol interlocks a standard safety feature that is installed in all new vehicles.” And the DADSS developers themselves said that “ultimately we would like them on all vehicles.”

Am I missing something here?

There are plenty of reasons why these devices must be calibrated well below the legal limit. It can take a couple of hours for a person to reach peak BAC after he stops drinking. (Your BAC level could start below the .08 legal threshold before rising to levels beyond the legal limit while in transit.)

If that driver were to then get into an automobile accident, the legal implications would be disastrous. DADSS manufacturers and car companies could both be held legally liable in civil cases, at the very least. As a result, such systems will have to be calibrated well below the legal limit — as low as .02, the BAC level most consumers reach after a single drink.
Leaving aside biology, consider the mechanics and electronics involved. To be accurate, these devices will be measuring the presence of alcohol in thousandths of 1 percent. They won’t be sitting in a temperature- and humidity-controlled room. They will be subject to varying environments of extreme cold, heat, road vibration, etc.

Even if DADSS is developed at “Six Sigma” — i.e., meeting the necessary requirements for widespread installation by estimates for working properly 99.999966 percent of the time — there will still be more than 4,000 false readings every day. That’s up to 30,000 opportunities each week to strand moms who can’t pick up their kids from soccer practice, commuters who can’t get to work and delivery drivers with food getting cold in the passenger seat.

Given that the president and legislators have spent recent weeks squabbling over trillions of dollars in debt reduction, spending $12 million a year for the next five years to end moderate social drinking might not seem like a big deal.

But that money would almost double the latest federal appropriation for the Title I Preschool program and the latest federal appropriation for a program providing child care access to low-income mothers pursuing post-secondary education.

These initiatives, and many others, are superior to wasting government money on the development of a device that will make cars more expensive to buy and maintain, increase the unreliability of our automobiles, and make it impossible to enjoy one or two drinks with friends.

Rick Berman is President of the public affairs firm Berman and Company. He has worked extensively in the food and beverage industries for the past 30 years. To learn more, visit http://www.BermanCo.com.