Lifesavers And Liberties

This weekend is the annual ‘Lifesavers’ National Conference on Highway Safety Priorities. Lifesavers is a yearly seminar that addresses traffic safety issues like seatbelt enforcement, pedestrian safety, distracted driving, and driving under the influence. This year is the 30th anniversary of the conference, and the keynote address was given by Jan Withers, the National President of Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.)

In her speech, Jan Withers indicated that M.A.D.D. has helped pass laws and establish practices that have saved thousands of lives. Among those are laws making 21 the minimum drinking age, laws setting .08 as the limit for blood alcohol concentration, laws prohibiting driving with certain concentrations of marijuana in a driver’s urine, drug recognition evaluations, and sobriety checkpoints. While the goal of M.A.D.D. to eliminate drunk driving is admirable, these laws and enforcement techniques are controversial.

Perhaps more controversial than some other M.A.D.D. campaigns is the current campaign supporting the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS). This system would ultimately place an alcohol-testing machine in all cars. Before the car will start, the driver will have to provide a biological sample (maybe breath?…maybe sweat?). If the system detects too much alcohol in the sample, the car will not start.

Portable breath-testing machines are notoriously unreliable and are not even admissible as evidence in Ohio O.V.I. cases due to their lack of accuracy. S.C.R.A.M. devices that measure alcohol at the surface of the skin have their own reliability issues. How will you like it if your car won’t start because it confuses your mouthwash or perfume with alcohol consumption? If DADSS is similar to portable breath-testing machines or S.C.R.A.M. devices, the intrusion on individual liberties outweighs the public interest in traffic safety.