Jul 30, 2020

Congresswoman Debbie Dingall (D) from Michigan introduced a bill to Congress requiring all vehicles to be equipped with alcohol monitoring equipment. This equipment kills the car ignition if it detects ambient alcohol. Many devices also require you to blow in the equipment before the car will engage.

This action has created a wide range of questions. Most people want to know how this could impact them in the future. Could this cause false accusations of alcohol use in vehicles and cascade into future fines or driving restrictions?

Let’s answer multiple questions we have received about this particular bill and the potential impact it could have on every driver.

What is the H.R.4354 Bill?

On Sept 17, 2019, H.R.4354 Bill was introduced into the US House of Representatives.

H.R.4354, or the HALT Drunk Driving Act, is designed to force automakers to install devices that can detect the BAC (blood alcohol content) of the driver before the car is started. If alcohol is detected, drivers cannot turn on their vehicle.

The bill states by September 30th, 2024, all vehicle manufacturers must have this device equipped in the cars. By September 30th, 2022 - 1,500 or more government vehicles must be equipped with the device. Within the bill, there is a grant offered to automakers for $25 million to help develop and install these devices within five years.

How is H.R.4354 Bill Going to Impact Drunk Driving?

The intent of this new bill is to decrease the amount or even eliminate drunk drivers altogether, because it will be impossible to start a car if over the legal blood alcohol content.

One of the major problems with drunk driving is that many people do not recognize their level of sobriety. Most people believe they are more in control of their faculties than they are. Alcohol impairs this decision-making system. Inhibitions are lowered and confidence in diminished abilities increases.

Today many people will have a designated driver with them when they go out to a bar or to dinner. Individuals by themselves have become the greatest concern. Without a partner, it is easy to step into a vehicle while being impaired by alcohol. The goal of the bill is to prevent drunk driving by denying the ability to drive to inebriated drivers.

MADD’s Position on H.R.4354

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is fully supportive of this law. On each of their individual state chapter sites, they are encouraging members and visitors to contact their legislators to support this bill.

The Colorado MADD Website states:

Colorado has been successful in reducing drunk driving fatalities. The state highly incentivizes the use of ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers by allowing a shorter license suspension period for those who elect to go on an interlock immediately following a drunk driving conviction. Due in part to the state's all-offender interlock law, drunk driving deaths have dropped by 19 percent. MADD applauds Colorado on its continued efforts to keep the roads safe and protect the public from drunk drivers. Sobriety checkpoints and continued refinement of the ignition interlock program are proven countermeasures to continue to save lives.

MADD highlights data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety stating technology required by H.R.4354 could save 7,000 lives per year.

MADD strongly supports ignition interlocks over fines, imprisonment, or license suspension. They point to studies that show 50 to 75 of drunk driving offenders continue to drive with a suspended license.

How Will H.R.4354 Impact Drivers?

Today many states require similar devices after the conviction of a DUI. This requires the driver to have a device installed to prevent driving if alcohol levels are elevated.

This bill will only affect cars manufactured after September 30th, 2024 on the consumer end. Anyone who buys a new car after this date will have to be under the legal limit in order to start their car. Many think this would be an inconvenience, but this preventative measure will definitely reduce the incidents of drunk drivers.

There is a worry that innocent drivers under the legal BAC limit could be impacted. False readings can occur disabling a vehicle. Some devices have reporting capabilities as well. Privacy groups are concerned about the intrusion of such devices.

How Does H.R.4354 Work?

Currently, most ignition interlock devices require you to take a breath test, similar to a breathalyzer, in order for the driver to start their car. Many devices are programmed with a “rolling retest”.

During the operation of the vehicle, the driver is sometimes required to give another breath sample to keep the vehicle operational. In cars with this version of the device, the tester is located close to the driver so that they can use the interlock while the car is moving.

The current models of ignition interlock devices work like breathalyzers. They require the driver to blow into a tube before being able to start their car.

There are newer models in development based on different technology:

1. Ambient Air

This is a breath-based system like the breathalyzer, except it detects alcohol in the air from the driver's breath. There are concerns of false readings with this device. Certain medicines or mouthwash contain small amounts of alcohol and could trigger the ignition stop.

In current technology, drivers are warned to avoid those types of consumption. If they have used anything containing alcohol, they should rinse their mouth with water prior to entering the vehicle. There are concerns that passengers could trigger the device as well.

2. Touch Devices

The other option is a touch-based system. This analyzes the touch of a driver’s finger, perhaps from a vehicle’s starter button or the steering wheel. You probably have experience with a similar device. If you have been to the hospital, they attached a clip on the end of your finger to detect oxygen saturation. The touch devices work off the same principal.

In the 1970s when seat belts were becoming commonplace in vehicles, lawmakers tried something similar to enforce seat belt use. Interlock ignition switches were connected to seat belt locks. If the seat belt wasn’t engaged, the car would not move.

Consumers launched an outcry over the devices. They were afraid of reliability and damage to their vehicles. The project was scrapped by lawmakers, and eventually seat belt use became standard habitual behavior for most drivers due to education and potential fines.

To win over consumers developers admit that the built-in devices must be fast, precise, and perfectly reliable in all driving conditions. It also must have safeguards against drivers who try to cheat the system.

In both systems, the devices are not able to stop the engine when the vehicle is in drive. Such a system could cause greater accidents on the road. There are concerns of system failures that could cause such an incident. If the devices are not perfect, it could create other problems on the road with random vehicles stopping in moving traffic.

Previous Attempts at Advanced Alcohol Detection Devices

The first interlock systems were developed all the way in 1969 but didn’t reach widespread use until the 1980’s.

These used relatively the same method in collecting the sample as we have now, with enhanced security measures every few years. This new law will ensure research into newer and better methods of collecting samples.

Since 2008, government-funded research and development programs have been designing universal systems for all vehicles to prevent drunk driving.  The research program is referred to as Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety or DADSS.

Current devices are truly punitive with zero tolerance. If any alcohol is present in the driver, the vehicle will not move. For systems that are universal, the tolerance cannot be so high. No one wants false readings or disabled vehicles due to small concentrations of alcohol from dental products or medicines.

The other challenge developers have is that alcohol is processed differently based gender, weight, ethnicity, and health problems. All these concerns must be factored into the algorithms that control the devices.

Today’s devices can be difficult to use as well. They require a strong breath of air into a tube before the system will register. Sometimes a driver may have to make several attempts before the system clears them to drive. Data shows that users fail to register on the first try at least 30% of the time. The devices degrade over time and must be re-calibrated each year as well.

The straws in the current devices have a small shelf life. They can only be used 5 times before being replaced. Systems for all drivers couldn’t tolerate this kind of inconvenience. This is partly why the bill has a 4-year time lag to allow for research and development into a truly easy hands-free system.

Over $65 million has been spent since 2008 researching and developing these accurate devices.

What is the Legality of H.R.4354 in a State Like Colorado

Colorado is one of the states that requires an ignition interlock device for drivers convicted of a DUI.

This is required immediately after one offense and is required for at least six months according to Colorado state law.

There are concerns about false accusations and privacy concerns. Today only those convicted of a crime are required to have the device. If this bill passes, all new vehicles after September 30th, 2024 will be required to have the device. The biggest change with H.R.4354 is that the devices will be mandated for all future vehicles.

What You Need to Know About Bill H.R.4354

H.R.4354 sits in committee at this point in the legislative process. There are many hurdles this bill might face before it becomes law. The auto industry will want to have a voice because of the potential costs of research and design in vehicles. Consumer advocacy groups will look at the cost impact on future vehicles as well.

There is no doubt that the motives and impetus behind the bill are noble and designed to save lives. However, the technology and public acceptance of such a device could stall progress.


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