The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration continues its effort to require new vehicles to feature anti-drunk driving technology. The federal agency published its preliminary report on such a mandate this week, laying out the challenges facing its implementation. NHTSA is also asking for the public to provide feedback on the issue because it’s still an open question about how new vehicles will monitor for impaired drivers.

The agency is curious to learn if the public will accept the potential for false positives that could prevent sober drivers from operating a vehicle. Even if the system is 99.9 percent accurate, that could still amount to a million false positives a day, which will be hard for the public to swallow.

It also wants to know how the government should educate the public about privacy concerns with the technology. More sensors mean more data collection and protecting that information will likely be vital to gaining consumer acceptance.

The report also raises concerns that Level 2 driver-assistance features could mask common drunk-driving behaviors, like swerving or holding an inconsistent speed. NHTSA is also concerned that the system’s sensors might not be able to operate in all conditions, like heavy weather, poor road markings, or other inconveniences.

The European Union attempted to mandate a similar interlock device on new vehicles that was supposed to go into effect in 2022. However, the bloc watered down the provisions, no longer requiring the system for all cars.

This opportunity is one of the few chances the public has to influence future public policy. The road to a world where the car decides if you’re fit to drive is still long, but it’ll only become easier to implement such monitoring systems as technology advances.

Congress passed legislation requiring the adoption of the technology by November 2024, but automakers and regulators seem unlikely to meet that deadline. The Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety told The Washington Post that the group aims to have a working drunk-driver detector by the end of 2025. Automakers will have to figure out how to install it in new cars even as the agency notes the system could increase costs and complexity, which will likely get passed on to the consumer. 

You can leave a comment on the proposal at regulations.gov by searching for the docket number, NHTSA-2022-0079, and following the instructions once it’s been published to the federal register. The public can also mail or fax their comments to the US Department of Transportation.

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