Drunk driving has been a persistent problem on roads worldwide despite considerable efforts to curb it. While blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits have been adequate, a more proactive approach may be required. This is where new technology comes into play, potentially heralding a new era in the fight against drunk driving.
Last year, the U.S. Congress passed a massive infrastructure bill requiring car manufacturers to equip vehicles with advanced drunk-driving prevention technology. These systems can either monitor a driver’s performance to detect impairment or test a driver’s BAC to determine if it is above the legal limit. This mandate will require all new cars to be installed with such systems by 2027.
Australia is also considering similar measures, with Victoria being the only jurisdiction outside the U.S. to trial this new technology.
What Are Driving Monitoring and Assistance Systems?
Driving monitoring and assistance systems (DMAS), which are largely automatic and unobtrusive, operate with minimal active driver input. They monitor factors like steering, braking, and driving trajectory, enabling the car to "infer" the driver's alertness and activate warnings or corrective action where necessary.
Technology has evolved significantly since its integration into vehicles in the early 2000s. Most new vehicles now come equipped with these systems, which have become increasingly sophisticated over time. In the European Union, DMAS technology will be mandatory in all new cars from July 2023.
Another technological advancement being developed targets drunk driving, specifically through detection systems using alcohol sensors. One method is breath-based and can determine a driver’s BAC from normal breathing in the car. Another is touch-based, using sensors in the ignition button or gear shift to determine a driver's BAC below the skin surface.
If the system determines that the driver is impaired or over the legal limit, it will take action. This could mean not allowing the car to start or move, warning the driver, or actively pulling the driver off the road.
However, there are concerns about the reliability of these systems and privacy issues related to how driver data is collected and used. Despite these concerns, this new technology may significantly improve the current system for policing drunk driving, which is costly, unreliable, and has not been fully effective in eradicating the problem.
While these technologies cannot directly address the social, cultural, and health-based issues leading to harmful alcohol and drug use, they can reduce the likelihood of people's interactions with the criminal justice system and subsequent legal repercussions. This shift from reactive and punitive responses to proactive technological interventions might draw more attention to social, cultural, and health-based interventions.
While privacy concerns must be addressed and managed, these systems offer a promising solution to curb drunk driving at a reduced financial cost to communities and minimize the harm caused by our current legal framework.
What Does This Mean for DUI Law?
The advancements in DUI technology have the potential to significantly impact DUI cases for those accused of criminal charges. These technologies could prevent drunk driving incidents from occurring in the first place. For example, breath-based and touch-based systems can determine a driver's BAC and prevent the car from starting if the BAC is over the legal limit.
The introduction of these technologies could also change law enforcement tactics regarding DUI. With the implementation of driving monitoring and assistance systems (DMAS), which monitor aspects like steering and braking to infer a driver's alertness, law enforcement agencies may rely less on traditional methods of DUI detection, such as roadside sobriety tests.
Considerations for Those Facing DUI Charges
However, these new technologies raise some legal and ethical concerns. There are questions about the reliability of these systems and how they handle false positives. For instance, what happens if a system mistakenly identifies a sober driver as impaired?
There are also concerns about privacy and the collection and use of driver data. How this data is managed could have implications for those accused of DUI. For instance, if a system records a driver's BAC levels over time, could this information be used in court to establish a pattern of behavior?
Another legal concern is the potential for these technologies to shift the burden of proof in DUI cases. Traditionally, it is up to the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a driver was impaired. However, if a car's system prevents it from starting due to high BAC levels, could this be sufficient proof of impairment?
While DUI technology advancements have the potential to decrease drunk driving incidents significantly, they also introduce new legal and ethical challenges that will need to be addressed as they become more widespread.
If you are facing DUI charges, contact The Wagner Law Firm.