Should Breath Testers be Required in Cars

Man has been consuming alcohol recreationally since before recorded history, and it’s likely that the first instance of driving while drunk occurred about a week or so after the automobile was first offered for sale to the public.  Drunken driving is a prevalent problem within our society, even with the extensive amount of education provided to the public and the well-known penalties for conviction of drunken driving.  There’s not a major holiday that goes by, where we don’t hear reminders on radio and television about the thousands of people injured or killed and the millions of dollars worth of property destroyed by drunken driving incidents.

In an effort to curb this problem, Mothers Against Drunk Driving has long-since been suggesting that our government mandate the factory installation of breath testers in all vehicles for sale in America that would prevent the vehicle from starting if alcohol is detected, in the same manner that our Department of Transportation has mandated factory-installed tail lights and side view mirrors.  Aside from the fact that such a thing is extremely Orwellian and implies that each American driver is a potential criminal every time we start twist the key in the ignition switch, the addition of such breath testers have many problems unrelated to that particular issue.

The simple fact of the matter is that it is not illegal for the majority of Americans over the age of 21 to drink and drive.  Unless an adult is in some manner of probation, parole, or other community supervision program that prohibits their consumption of alcohol, it is perfectly legal to have a detectable amount of alcohol in your blood stream while driving.  A criminal act takes place when there is a Blood Alcohol Concentration of .08 in all US states.

Because of the lack of technology being available to actually chemically analyze a breath sample for alcohol and still fit under a dashboard, portable breath testers rely upon pseudo-scientific principles involving assumed variables which are different for each driver.  In addition, such testers are unable to differentiate between whiskey and mouthwash.  Imagine being unable to drive to work when you’re already running late, because having fresh breath is important to you!

While driving under the influence of intoxicants is a serious problem in our society, alcoholic beverages are but one of the available chemicals a person may recreationally ingest for the purposes of becoming intoxicated.  There is no breath tester available that can detect the presence of opiates, cocaine, marijuana, prescription painkillers, or any other drug people use to get “stoned”.

Many vehicles licensed and registered for on-road use are also often used in off-road situations while on private property.  Unlike signal lights and mirrors, a breath tester is used to enforce behavioral standards of on-road drivers.  Should government regulation of on-road drivers extend to off-road driving on private property, simply because the vehicle is registered to drive on the road?  That brings up another subject, which is the ability to over-ride an ignition interlock device.  When added to a vehicle for the purposes of enforcing post-conviction probation requirements, such devices can be easily defeated by anyone with basic knowledge of automotive electrical systems.  When they become factory-integrated into the car’s computer, they can just as easily be over-ridden by manufacturers who specialize in such things, just as computerized emission controls and speed regulators already are.  While such devices are typically marked “For Off-Road Use Only” by their makers, and are illegal to use on street-driven cars in many instances, they are available none-the-less.  They are also easily removed and installed, typically by plugging and unplugging a small electronic box into the vehicle’s OBD-II port.  It’s ridiculous to think an ignition interlock over-ride box won’t be released on the market as soon as these companies are able to get their hands on a test vehicle.

Of course, all of these factors fail to account for the biggest reason we should refuse to allow breath testers in our vehicles.  In addition to being an added expense to the manufacturer that gets passed down to the consumer after a hefty mark-up, they don’t do anything more than provide an annoyance for the majority of the people on the road and can easily be defeated by something as simple as having someone else blow into the tube for you.