According to information gathered by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), in recent years South Carolina has proved itself to be the deadliest state for accidents involving drunk drivers in the United States.
Just before the 4th of July holidays (one of the deadliest times of year for all drivers), Congress approved changes to Federal transportation policies under a series of programs and laws called the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or MAP-21 bill. Though MADD and some other safety advocates say the changes are aimed squarely at eliminating drunk driving, others say the law goes too far.
The biggest changes in law involve technologies that may help prevent drunk drivers from being able to operate vehicles in the first place. The MAP-21 bill includes a grant program meant to encourage states to adopt laws allowing the use of ignition interlock devices in the vehicles of those convicted of drunk driving. When a driver has an ignition interlock device in his or her vehicle, the unit makes a driver test their blood alcohol content (BAC) before they can start the vehicle–much like a Breathalyzer. If a driver’s BAC is above the .08 legal limit, the vehicle will not start.
Currently, 16 states have laws in place that allow courts to require interlocks in the vehicles of people found guilty of drunk driving, including South Carolina. However, under the MAP-21 bill, the grant programs wouldn’t just encourage states without interlock device laws to adopt them. The MAP-21 bill would also encourage states with existing laws to expand the use of the devices from just the most serious repeat offenders to anyone found guilty of drunk driving.
The most controversial part of the bill, however, is aimed at all autos manufactured after 2015. Under the MAP-21 legislation, all 2015 and newer vehicles will have event data recorders (EDRs) built into them. We’ve already written about the safety concerns that some groups have raised about EDRs, which center around issues of privacy. Some consumer advocates worry that the data in EDRs really isn’t as secure as it should be. However, under MAP-21 legislation, EDRs aren’t the end of the story. As the MADD release about the laws shows, MAP-21 also allows auto makers to begin installing so-called Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, or DADSS technology. This technology, like an interlock device, is able to test the BAC of a driver, and will stop a vehicle from starting if a driver is above the legal limit. Unlike the interlock devices, however, the DADSS technology would target all drivers–not just those found guilty of drunk driving.
Some groups, like MADD, say that DADSS is a huge step forward in the fight against deadly drunk driving across the US. Others say that the technology is a violation of privacy and that drivers should be able to decide whether or not to use a DADSS system. Still others say that DADSS systems should be used like interlock devices, and only become activated after a driver has been found guilty of drunk driving. The only thing that seems certain right now is that drunk driving is a problem that endangers all drivers and families on US roads, and the battle over DADSS, EDRs and interlock devices is far from over.