Livan Davidson Staff Editor

Manufacturers build in safety technologies like seat belts and airbags to protect people from injuries and death. Imagine a person steps into his car, and before he or she can drive the car, he or she must pass an alcohol test through a touch-based or breath-based system built into the car. The Reduce Impaired Driving for Everyone Act of 2019 (“RIDE Act”), is a new bill introduced by Senators Tom Udall from New Mexico and Rick Scott from Florida. This new law proposes  that every car, manufactured by 2024, must have “virtually unnoticeable alcohol detection systems.”

The years 2016 and 2017 combined accounted for the death of approximately 11,000 persons as a result of drunk driving in the United States. The RIDE Act would require the Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to collaborate with car manufacturers, suppliers, and others interested in the technology to research and build automobiles with alcohol detection systems. The RIDE Act’s goal is to create a technology where drivers do not have to do anything to trigger the alcohol detection system.

The federal limit for alcohol content in a person’s body while driving a car in the U.S. is 0.08%. The use of breathalyzers by police officers has existed for over a decade. Also, in several jurisdictions, persons convicted of drinking and driving, or repeated offenders have been required to attach an alcohol detection system in their cars while on probation. However, the federal implementation of a law that would require furtive alcohol detection systems on every car manufactured by 2024 raises preliminary questions regarding economics and law.

From an economic standpoint, it is costly to conduct the necessary research and build these technologies into cars. The RIDE Act would allocate ten million dollars to government-funded research. The increase in the price of cars manufactured with alcohol detection technologies will harm automobile businesses because people will have a hard time affording a car valued at a higher price. On the other hand, even if the cars with alcohol detection systems are more expensive than cars without it, the benefit of potentially saving lives from deaths and criminal liability outweighs the cost of a more expensive automobile.

Another preliminary question is the legal issue of implementation and enforcement at the international level. The RIDE Act would raise a question of international law and trade because it would require car manufacturers across the world to make cars that have unnoticeable alcohol detection systems (this is a standard that is different from the cars we see in the United States). Car manufacturers would have to adhere to making a specific type of car to sell to the United States.

Unnoticeable alcohol detection systems in cars also raise a right to privacy concerns. Alcohol detection systems will likely be able to track the number of times a person tried to sit behind the wheel while under the influence. However, the government does have a heightened interest in protecting the lives of persons.