Mandatory In-Car Breathalyzers Coming?

By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist

If you’re not a convicted drunk driver, should you still be required to have an in-car breathalyzer fitted (at your expense, ‘natch) to your next new vehicle?

Apparently, some automakers — including GM and Toyota — think so. They and a few others are working together under the auspices of something called the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, which is a $10 million federal “research program” that is trying to develop just such technology for mass introduction a few years from now.

At the moment, the only people who have to deal with (and pay for) in-car Breathalyzers are convicted drunks; the devices are basically ignition locks that prevent the vehicle’s engine from being started until the would-be driver blows into the tube and the system determines he’s not liquored up.

But by 2012 or so, in-car breath sniffers could be standard equipment in every new vehicle sold, force-fed to you by the tag team of Washington, Detroit and, of course, the ever-busy Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

No conviction necessary.

Advocates say the technology under development would be “less intrusive.” Instead of making the driver blow into a little tube like they make you do at those roadside “sobriety checkpoints,” a system of passive alcohol sensors would be fitted to the car that could take a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) reading via a person’s skin — as when your hand touches the shifter or steering wheel. This “quiet” approach is supposed to make us feel better about being pre-convicted and treated like known and duly processed irresponsible drunks every single time we get behind the wheel of a car.

It doesn’t work for me.

I dislike drunk drivers as much as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (is anyone actually for drunk driving)? But I certainly do object to policies and regulations that impose cost and hassle and arguably, petit tyranny, on people who have done absolutely nothing to warrant it.

This isn’t about nannyism so much as it is about upending a few basic bedrock Western ideas about criminal justice, rights and responsibilities. Chief among these being that each of us gets treated as a specific individual.

If we do something wrong, we get specifically held accountable for it;  the guy next door who had nothing to do with it isn’t dragged along for the ride. But that’s just what is happening here — indeed, has already happened — from those so-called “sobriety checkpoints” (which mostly “check”  perfectly sober drivers) to the growing kudzu of “primary enforcement” seat belts laws that pester (and ticket) people for not wearing a seat belt, an action that may not be especially smart on an individual level but which has very little to do with the safety or well-being of others.

What’s even worse than these growing harassments, however, is how few object to them on principle.

Perhaps it’s because of the continuous dumbing-down of the populace, which knows all about Lindsay Lohan’s latest bender and who’s the latest finalist on American Idol but no longer understands that the ends don’t justify the means — and that down that road lies much worse than henpecky tickets and having to pay a few more bucks for your next new car as a result of some government mandate.

People used to get that; today, most don’t seem to. It’s the only way to explain the tsunami-like effectiveness of the word, “safety” — which doesn’t have to be specifically defined, quantified, subjected to cost-benefit analysis or throttled back by the once-superior claim of the individual’s “personal bubble of authority” — where he or she formerly reigned supreme, free of the suffocating and endless edicts of others who claim their evaluation of a perceived risk trumps your personal right to choose.

Just say “safety” (and for added emphasis, include “our children”) and no objection can be sustained.

This latest bit of ugliness burbling up from the stinkpot of government-corporate do-gooderism is merely a symptom of the underlying canker that is our ignorance — and acquiescence.

Earlier generations of Americans would have said, “Hold on a minute. I haven’t been convicted of driving drunk; hell, I’ve never even been suspected of it. Why in the world should I be required to buy an alcohol sniffer to check me out before I drive?” They would have insisted on tough punishment for the specific dimwit who got behind the wheel of a car impaired by booze. But they would have insisted, with equal toughness, that everyone else be left the hell alone to go about their business in peace.

Today, however, the siren song of saaaaaaaaafety is like a secular version of the prayer call in Muslim countries. When people hear it, they automatically fall down on their knees en masse and begin to worship.

God may be great — but “safety” is rapidly gaining ground on him.


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94 Responses to “Mandatory In-Car Breathalyzers Coming?”

  1. I actually think this would be a good idea to impose on underage drivers (I'm 19) because the propensity for teens to drink massive quantities… I know tons of kids who are extremely level headed but drink so much that their functioning on autopilot.

    For adults, this idea is absurd though. Only if you're a serial drunk driver should this be considered.

  2. Highway says:

    Mike Greenberg:

    Did you read the column? The whole point is that groups should NOT be pre-judged and lumped together. That measures like this are wrong in and of themselves, not wrong for only a group of people.

    If you want to argue that teens binge drink, that's a different issue (albeit with an equally stupid cause). But it's still not a reason to presuppose that they have been drinking when they get into a car.

    This kind of 'solution' to a 'problem' that's primarily driven by Mothers Against Drinking is inherently wrong, and that they use the amorphous spectre of 'Safety' to shout down any opposition is the issue.

  3. Mark Milliman says:

    Statements like those of Mike Greenberg are indicative of the indoctrination that our schools have instilled in our youth. Thomas Payne and John Henry are only names in history books and our Constitution is a terribly old guidepost that should be modernized to keep up with the times.

    The TSA, road blocks, tracking of our financial transactions, CCTV cameras, and many other techniques are being "sold" to us in the name of "safety" while our youth just blindly accept it.

    What will it take for the populous or just a significant number of citizens wake up and realize what is happening to our freedoms? They way that we are controlled in American society would make Stalin proud.

  4. r.harper says:

    Give me liberty or give me death. Our founding fathers would be planning another revolution. The weed police just grabbed me this week because I cultivate a black berry patch to pick for fruit and also make a little wine.

  5. A. Magnus says:

    This idea is communism marketed as public safety. Anyone who falls for it deserves to live in North Korea or Red China, not the United States.

  6. james pruett says:

    Can you please provide specific names so we can write letters to oppose this.

    Eg which senator sponsored the 10M funding.


  7. Walt says:

    Welcome to the ussa. I wonder if these "advocates" pushing this totalitarian, orwellian "technology" would have the same devices installed on their cars?

    Why I bet not!

  8. matt says:

    hey mike, most 'underage drivers', and i assume you mean under the legal age to drink alcohol which is 21, are legal adults (18,19,20). So it should be, in your mind, absurd that they should ever have this enforced on them.

  9. solinox says:

    Excuse me, did they say passive sampling of the skin when you touch things? I wonder what would happen, then, to all the paranoid moms who constantly rub alcohol-based hand sanitizer all over themselves? Will the same soccer moms supporting MADD now be thwarted in their own efforts to drive by their own mad schemes?

  10. Phelps says:

    Just from the practicality standpoint, how much more insane can you get than to introduce a point of failure into your design that intentionally makes the product useless if it malfunctions?

  11. Brian says:

    Yet no one is concerned that unlicensed drivers get behind the wheel all the time, or that the driver of a vehicle isn't always the vehicle's owner, or even an authorized driver of the vehicle. And what about cellphone users? Supposedly they're just as bad as drunks. Where's the cellphone detection devices? So, target the drunks, but let the thieves, unlicensed drivers and cellphone users ride free? Believe me, I'm not a supporter of any kind of nannying devices, but seriously, if you're going to target problem drivers, why target just one kind?

  12. CJ says:

    Not that I would ever buy a new car again (who can afford the 50% depreciation when you drive it off the lot?), but this certainly infringes on the very meaning of the words 'innocent until proven guilty'.

    Just more idiot legislation from our band of idiot lawmakers with too much time on their hands, too much lobby money in their pockets and too much whispering in their ear by the department of homeland 'security'.

  13. August says:

    I like the idea. There are 10-20 times more people driving drunk than the ones getting caught, plus 90% of the people killed are by drunks that have never gotten a DUII ticket. Saving 100,000 + people from serious injuries and society's costs makes this very sensible. It is only a safety device, like seat belts, air bags, and KEYS!

  14. Francesca Thomas says:

    I guess that means I will either walk everywhere or use public transport.

    Oh wait – I do that already.

    Will these devices be in the taxis, the buses, the trains and the planes?

  15. A Reader says:

    You know what is involved in more accidents than alcohol?


  16. DaveW says:

    Why do they think that these interlocks will have any greater acceptance by the public than the seat belt interlock regulation of 1974? Even a small percentage of false alarms where a car doesn't start inappropriately will cause a consumer uproar.

  17. Mike says:

    Guilty til proven innocent. That's what the law is all about.

  18. Sam says:

    Your founding fathers must be spinning in their graves. Why do you americans-who claim to be free and brave and a democracy-allow this to go on? You are so submissive.

  19. Confused... says:

    I am confused why you would be so upset about something like this? Don't you think it is a little late to be screeching about violations of your liberty when you traded it all for bowl of cold, weak soup long ago?

    When you all consented to mandatory insurance as a condition of exercise of your essential liberty, you psssssed it all away.

    Insurance is exactly that – a system of 'guilty EVEN IF proven innocent', the MOST innocent (those who NEVER do any harm) pay the most, the MOST guilty (careless, irresponsible) escape any real consequences for their actions. And the innocent – well, they go to jail and have theri lives destroyed for not participating in this gross injustice.

    The liberty-eating monster you all trust in is about to taserr you all to death in front of your kids, and up your rates…

  20. Chad says:

    I wrote a blog yesterday saying almost the EXACT same thing before I had read this just now. I would invite everyone to read it and if you're a myspace member you can comment on it.

  21. Big M says:

    Just once, I'd like to see somebody who knows a bit more than zero about the Constitution state for the record that the federal fascist government has ZERO AUTHORITY to legislate with respect to what people put into their bodies. Laws are supposed to deal with peoples' actions, NOT the content of their body fluids.

    The Nazis were the first people in history to implement drunk driving laws. I'm sure it was just a coincidence that Hitler was a non-smoking, teetotaling vegetarian fanatic. And by the way, the Nazis pointed to forced sterilization laws in the U.S. as models for their laws legalizing the sterilization of Jews. In case you're wondering, by the time Uncle Adolf and the Nazis came to power, there were 17 states in this "free" country that had passed such laws, Indiana being the first in 1907.

    And for anybody who wants to whine to me that a relative was killed by a drunk driver, there are laws that were in place decades before this insidious shit to take care of this. Leave the alcohol out of it. And don't give me any shit that somebody who MAY be LEGALLY drunk (and like George Carlin said, if they're LEGALLY drunk, then what's the fucking problem?) should have their life ruined because they MIGHT do something. Probabilities aren't for legislators writing laws to deal with. They're for insurance companies and casinos to deal with, on a private basis.

    Question: what kind of a police state is this, when the government has to administer a test to you to determine whether you're a "criminal?"

    Last question: how does anybody know whether these "breathalyzers" even read accurately? You breathe into it, a cop says you're a criminal, and off you go, and your life is ruined? The Founders shouldn't have bothered.

  22. […] Will we soon have ignition interlock devices on every vehicle? […]

  23. Robert Firth says:

    I wonder, how many women will be raped and murdered by random stalkers because they couldn't start their automobiles fast enough to escape? Let's hope they are all members of MADD.

  24. […] Until Proved Innocent Mandatory In-Car Breathalyzers Coming? Well I told a few people that this was coming, of course I was laughed at, after all it does sound […]

  25. Elroy says:

    To Mike Greenberg,

    As a parent, there is a difference between policing your kids into doing the right thing and teaching them. I don't police my kids as much as I could. This is not without risk. I am forced to trust their judgement to a certain degree and hope that I gauge that degree correctly. The reason I do this is that I am raising them to be adults and think for themselves. I could put devices on my cars when they start driving that would monitor and limit what they could do. That is not the same thing as teaching responsibility in my opinion. I also plan to introduce my kids to alcohol in a setting that I control where they can learn about consuming safely.

    Robert Firth makes a good point. I see lots of lawsuits. Just spray some womans hand with alcohol and they cannot start their car. Good one.

  26. Chris says:

    I dont drink and drive but it doesnt take a rocket surgeon to put on a pair of $2 gloves and bypass the "passive alcohol sensors". Remember; if the glove dont fit, you're in a heap of sh!t.

  27. […] Eric Peters National Motorists Association June 23, 2008 […]

  28. James says:

    People just arent getting it!!!!! It has nothing to do with safty or Drunk driving. Its all about control. I really do hope that theres a REAL revolution and Soon. This is getting out of hand. Real ID act will track you every move. It will have RFID chips in it and be required to get a job, open bank account, drive, board an airplane etc. That is unless you stop it. Contact your congress or senate reps. Contact your state reps as well. Thats where all the real power is in the states. You can bet all these tracking systems will be intergrated. Oh yeah Im 25 so from the younger generation who wasnt taught the constitution or anything else really of value except math and english. Ron Paul has opened my eyes and millions of others both young and old. If you want others to know what its like to be free talk about it. Tell US about how it could be and how to change things back. Ate this Point I believe I was lied to when I was told I live in a free country! Whats the next best country to move too? You know where the government leaves you alone and lets you do what you please so long your not harming others etc. These laws and mandates are getting way overboard. Cant even install a shed on my own property unless I get permission from gov. That is if I want one that can hold a bike and lawn mower oh and it cant be within 10 ft from the edge of the yard etc. Such BS nowadays.

    Oh yeah and the glove wont work since it will have to detect something or it will be like theres nothing touching it. The thin sergens gloves probly wont hold back the alcohol either. just a thought.

  29. […] wheel and you’ll actually be required to pay for that privilege if you want to drive… Mandatory In-Car Breathalyzers Coming?–National Motorists […]

  30. […] wheel and you’ll actually be required to pay for that privilege if you want to drive… Mandatory In-Car Breathalyzers Coming?–National Motorists […]

  31. […] wheel and you’ll actually be required to pay for that privilege if you want to drive… Mandatory In-Car Breathalyzers Coming?–National Motorists […]

  32. Hubcap says:

    You are correct and I hope than others in your generation see it too.

    Unfortunateley I have spent a majority of my life writing and calling my reps regarding various issues.(And I use the term "rep" very loosely because I'm not sure exactly what or who they represent–it sure as hell ain't me.) Nothing has happened.

    Hundreds of millions of people all around the world told Congress, the Senate and the President that invading Iraq was a bad idea. They did it anyway.

    A majority of Americans think pot should be legal, but it's not.

    A majority of Americans don't want to be spied on, but we are.

    We need a complete purge of our corporate government and to replace it with a citizen government.

  33. Dan says:

    Don't get me started on the us v. them attitude of cops. I have a minor in crim J, but when I got out of college I decided I didn't want to spend half my life associating with criminals, in the past few years I've also decided I wouldn't have wanted to associate with most cops as well.

    The politically correct "even one drink makes you a drunk driver" is neo-prohibitionist propaganda. Driving Under the Influence (DUI) laws are a bunch of crap, it's subjective, what qualifies some stranger with a badge to assert that I'm impared if I don't have a BAC over the legal limit? That is why there are Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) laws, where there is an objective standard (yeah, I know this whole thread started with the assertion that testing someone against the standard might be severely flawed), against which one can be judged. Under the legal limit, not DWI, over the limit, DWI.

    You can't have it both ways, you can't have a limit, but assert that you're going to arrest and prosecute people that responsibly only consume an amount of alcohol that leaves them under the limit, and therefore they are legally entitled to drive.

    Zero tolerance, neo-prohibitionists, and (with respect to those who are good ones) thugs with badges and attitudes can continue to self congratulate on their "safety" related attack on liberty, and therefore personal responsibility.

    And by the way, when reasonable, educated, productive adults begin to mistrust the police, we have a big problem.

  34. […] /blog/duidwi/mandatory-in-car-breathalyzers-coming/ […]

  35. Hubcap says:

    Dan wrote:
    "And by the way, when reasonable, educated, productive adults begin to mistrust the police, we have a big problem."

    Taking this thread far afield of the topic, but you really laid it out there, buddy.

    I will probably never forget the moment a few years ago when I was sitting on the couch mindlessly staring at the TV and the realization hit me like a brick upside the head: I have more to fear of the police than any criminal; I'm more afraid of my government more than any terrorist.

  36. tracker says:

    I read your statement and have some questions. The first one is " What do you mean by politically correct, One drink makes you a drunk driver"? I understand the BAC and the DWI differentiation.

    The reason I am asking is I was downtown in Memphis one night attending college. On the way home I stopped at a roadside Barbeque with several other establishments which served alcohol. I purchased a sandwich and a coca cola. I was there for about a half hour and left.

    When I was on the city street I was followed by the local police for about a quarter to half mile and stopped before I got on the interstate to go home. I was approached and told to exit my vehicle which I did, and was asked if I knew my tail lights were out. I was surprised by the question because I had recently bought this old Dodge pickup and replaced the tail light bulbs only days earlier.

    I walked to the rear of my truck while explaining I did not because the bulbs were just replaced. I told him it must have been a fuse. The second question was " Had I been drinking ? I told him , No! He then asked where I had been and I told him the University of Memphis.I had two night classes. He quickly called me a liar and locked me in his vehicle while he ransacked my truck looking for something.

    He did not ask for my license or ID until after he trashed my belongings and returned to question my license. I questioned him from my cage that night and lost a lot of respect for LE in Memphis.

    I respect the officers who do their jobs and continue to give reasonable respect to the accused, but I was not even accused of anything except lying to him and he wouldn't even tell me what I lied about.

    Finally after about five minutes of asking him why he called me a liar he responded and said he saw me leave a bar next to the Barbeque he had been watching. I told him the barbeque had a beer license and I only had a coca cola. I did not know coke was considered drinking ( Duh! )

    I asked him to give me a breathalyzer and he shouted at me not to tell him what to do. I asked him if I was under arrest and he said I was free to go, but by then I was so agitated at being locked in a rolling cage I started to rattle the bars and said " If I am then why are there no handles to open these doors ?

    I was being facetious and angry at the same time and he responded, "for my protection."

    I knew why he pulled me over, but I asked him anyway. He told me " your tail lights were out". He wrote me the ticket and refused to pick up the articles he had removed from my trashed vehicle.

    It was May of 1987 because I had just received my first set of uniforms from where I was employed and he took my clean laundry and laid it out in the grass. he was mad because a DWI or drug bust was better than a measly $19.00 tail light violation. The same violation now is about $95.00 unless you get a reasonable LEO.

  37. tracker says:

    I was talking to a friend who states that it is easier to just pay the ticket. In 21 years the cost of a misdeameanor ticket has gone from an inconvenience on a fixed budget to a major cost. The court cost was about $61.00 back then, but still stands today at about the same fee. Why are the fines continuously rising when the initial cost of the Bill of Rights has not changed. We the people of these fifty United States are separated by the fact that I live in Tennessee and if you live in California you could care less what I am doing in Tennessee until it affects you. Imagine only four states out of fifty have anti- quota laws on traffic violations.

  38. Mela says:

    What MADD needs to remember is that there *are* appropriate times to drive a vehicle after failing a breathalizer. When fleeing from someone who is threatening bodily harm is the immediate example that comes to mind. Also keep in mind that breathalizers have an error rate. Wouldn't it suck to be a person who constantly failed the breathalizer?

  39. […] Posted by michaelr Mandatory In-Car Breathalyzers Coming? Well I told a few people that this was coming, of course I was laughed at, after all it does sound […]

  40. […] people and Americans especially like being slaves just as long as they are told that they are free. First off, we have Mothers Against Drunk Driving an organization with a long track record of endorsi… under the guise of drunk driving prevention. Microsoft, Google, EBay among others have helped found […]

  41. […] Mandatory In-Car Breathalyzers Cominghttp://www.motorists…in-car-breathalyzers-coming/ […]

  42. C. says:

    I don't get the big uproar behind this. If you don't drink and drive, you don't have much to worry about. You pass the test, your car starts. Sure, there would still be ways to get around it, but I'd give it a test run for a few year before I say "RARARA THE GOVERNMENT IS SO UNFAIR AND WANTS TO CONTROL ALL OF MY ACTIONS RARARA LETS FIGHT THIS BUT NOT UNTIL I CRY TO ALL OF MY FRIENDS RARARA." Yeah, a bunch of rebellious teenagers you are.

    In the process of picking your battles, I don't see this one as being too important. I'd rather do the breathing thing than the skin thing, though. And seriously, if you have a problem with it, why not just start walking? Considering gas prices, it might be a better idea.

    What I was saying about testing it for a year: if accidents and deaths caused by drunk driving decrease by a large amount, I'd keep it around.

  43. M says:

    I'm not completely down with this whole thing, but I would rather my car not start then a cop telling me that I'm screwed for the next year or two…

  44. […] first story comes to us from the National Motorists Association. There has been talk about making anyone charged with a DUI install (at their own expense) a […]

  45. tracker says:


    There is not enough information available on your comment to form an opinion. The law and its contest of cases has three pleas, guilty, not-guilty and no contest. You may not have won your case because you did not have a jury ( judgement by your peers) trial. Chances are that your attorney made a plea bargain during the initial hearing which is what most people go to to plead their cases.

    DWI stops after an initial stop for any reason, in my opinion, is the financial gemstone of the legal system. Read my comments of 6/25/08. The DWI laws are so diversified in all fifty states the federal .08 and under legal limit means nothing to the average driver.

    I have heard rumors that the fresh smell of straight ??? alcohol and water on ice will register over the limit. One drink and you are branded.

    I have said it too many times. The chances of your getting any ticket will depend on what time of the month the local jurisdiction needs to balance their budget, and what you act like.

    The police are doing their job, the local residents are paying their taxes and voting for their politicians to represent them and if you are from out-of -town straighten out your act, be courteous and there is the reasonable doubt in my mind you will get a citation.

  46. Calla says:

    MADD has became a selfish and crazed organization. They need to be stopped. They have so much power and money now how can they be stopped? Even though I won a DWI case due to police stopping me for no other reason than to harass me, I still had to pay 1000$ to MADD. I also had attend several AA meetings which wasted my time and those that were actually there to help alcoholics.

  47. Todd says:

    Responsible good sane drivers who do not ever drink and drive should not be force to have their vehicle fitted with an in-car breathalyzer if they really do not want it. The drivers who do drink and drive should have in-car breathalyzers fitted in their vehicle since they put others at risk. Laws should protect innocent people without taking away freedom. Freedom cannot keep being taking away in the name of safety because if that continues then we will hardly have any freedom left and then what are we going to do. I am not saying safety is not important because it is and it should be put into the equation without taking freedom away. Benjamin Franklin had it right when he said "Those who give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

  48. Todd says:

    Why can't the safety advocates, auto manufactures, car enthusiast, governments, citizens, and the environmentalist all work together as a whole and respect each other instead of being divided from one anotheir.