Restaurant group, MADD square off over requiring alcohol detectors in cars

The American Beverage Institute (ABI) is blasting legislation backed by Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) that would put alcohol detection devices in all cars.

The industry group argues an amendment Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) will offer Wednesday to the Motor Vehicle Safety Act goes too far.

Sarbanes would provide $60 million to develop alcohol detection devices for installation as standard equipment in all cars within five to 10 years. Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) have proposed a similar bill in the Senate.

{mosads}ABI, which represents over 8,000 American restaurants, strongly
opposes the bill and argues it would eliminate Americans’ ability to
legally enjoy a drink during an outing. The organization claims the
bill would set the in-car detectors below the legal limit for
intoxication due to liability concerns.

“Those supporting this bill want to use your tax dollars to pour
millions into a project that seeks to make alcohol detectors — such as
sniffers, skin sensors and breathalyzers — standard in all cars as
original equipment, just like seatbelts and airbags are now,” said ABI
Managing Director Sarah Longwell. “This campaign represents the
anti-alcohol movement at its worst.”

A spokesman for Sarbanes said the amendment would authorize $12 million annually to be spent on researching passive detection devices. The funding level could still change, but the spokesman said there is no mandate that detectors be installed in all cars.

MADD, one of the organizations backing the amendment, set up an automated message on its website that users can customize and send to Sarbanes expressing their support for his efforts. The messages notes that almost 12,000 people each year are killed as a result of drunk driving and claims the new funding for detection technologies would be a significant step toward solving the problem. It also calls the detection devices “passive, unobtrusive, reliable, accurate.”

ABI responded to MADD by arguing that alcohol detection devices should be limited to repeat offenders, rather than a burden placed on all Americans.

“Everyone opposes drunk driving,” said Longwell, “but putting alcohol detectors in all cars as standard equipment — set well below .08 — would make all driving Americans guilty until proven innocent every time they started their cars. Alcohol detection technology is a great way to keep hardcore drunk drivers — those who cause the vast majority of alcohol-impaired fatalities — from being able to start their cars while drunk. But we shouldn’t be developing this technology with the aim of putting it in everyone’s car.”

Tags Bob Corker Tom Udall

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