The U.S. Senate is currently considering a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that’s primarily targeting the ailing highway system, with tens of billions left over to spend on advancing the nation’s EV charging infrastructure and incorporating more eco-friendly modes of public transportation. But there’s also some really kooky shit that you need to be made aware of before this passes into law.
Along with new regulations that would mandate the inclusion of collision detection systems and automatic emergency braking, where the car calls your bluff and applies the wheel-stoppers independently of your actions, provisions have been made that would also require some kind of in-car breathalyzer. The stated aim is to reduce incidents of drunk driving. However, the proposed system may also include driver-monitoring cameras, totally undermining any nobility the cause might otherwise have had.
Complaining about regulatory overreach is kind of my beat and the last few years have kept me truly busy. But this is on a whole other level as the nanny state runs amok — and we’re just getting started.
While incidents of drunk driving have come down over the decades, it remains a legitimate problem. We also saw 2020 deliver some of the worst crash rates in U.S. history despite people undoubtedly driving less and the previous downward trends. Sadly, the government solution seem to be based around inconveniencing regular people while simultaneously violating their right to privacy.
The 2,700-page document suggests installing automated traffic enforcement hubs, networked with speed and stoplight cameras (similar to what currently exists in China) and requiring automakers to install breathalyzers (or their equivalent) inside of vehicles that must be used before an automobile can even be started. This is a popular tactic among the court system as a way to ensure DUI recipients aren’t setting off three sheets to the wind. But one of the criticisms was that drivers could simply have someone else blow into the device. Well, the interested parties have accounted for that by requiring some kind of in-car monitoring system that not only makes sure you’re the one blowing but also has the ability to track face and eye movements in case you’re planning to get drunk while driving.
Considering automakers are already installing driver-facing cameras as part of their “advanced driving suites” or “driver assistance packages,” it’s not much of a stretch to see that hardware readapted for government use. The industry has even begun signaling that it’s happy to comply.
Carla Bailo, CEO of the Center for Automotive Research, recently told NBC News that the real issue won’t even be developing the hardware to do this. It already exists. The hard part will be making it cheap enough so that automakers can make sure all of it can go into literally every car produced.
“I don’t think that will be as easy as people might think,” Bailo said.
Nissan, for one, is working on a system that would use several different methods to see if an impaired driver is behind the wheel. Multiple sensors detect alcohol in cabin air. A camera atop the instrument cluster looks for facial cues signaling the driver is inebriated, and the vehicle itself looks for driving patterns suggesting an impaired driver.
But one concern is that the system could be triggered by drunk passengers, even with a sober, designated driver.
The federal government is funding research through the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety program. Several possible solutions are being studied, including one similar to a Breathalyzer. It would measure alcohol in the air around the driver, however, rather than requiring a motorist to blow into a tube every time they want start their vehicle. Like Nissan’s system, the challenge is to avoid false positives from an inebriated passenger.
A second system measures blood alcohol content in the body’s capillaries by shining a light on a driver’s finger. It could be built into a vehicle’s start button or steering wheel.
It’s all very futuristic until you remember that self-driving cars were supposed to have arrived a couple of years ago and the industry’s solution was to release a bunch of half-baked assistance features that mandate constant surveillance so the automaker can avoid any liabilities. That technology is now becoming the keystone for the proposed safety legislation that’s lurking in the Senate infrastructure bill.
Those in need of further proof that this is all sketchy as hell need look no further than its endorsement by the world’s largest automotive lobby. The Alliance for Automotive Innovation (AAI) has already expressed support for driver-monitoring cameras, which are completely in line with what the bill’s proposing.
“The auto industry has long been committed to supporting public and private efforts to address this tragic threat to road safety,” John Bozzella, CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, stated. “This legislation furthers the possibility for advanced technologies to help address the risk of impaired driving.”
Additional requirements from the bill include automakers to include some sort of rear-seat monitoring that would alert operators when they’ve left a child in the rear seat (something many vehicles already have) and collision detection systems (ditto). The only real change is that they would be required hardware for all vehicles, rather than something that could be added as an option. Of course, the industry doesn’t care because their inclusion can now just be baked into the final asking price, rather than something you’ll have to be sold into at the dealership.
If you have a free weekend, I strongly urge you to read the bill. It’s not just the automotive content that veers into the weeds. The entire thing is loaded with those weird inclusions that have nothing to do with infrastructure but had no other way of being snuck into law. Though it could be too late by then because a vote on the bill is expected to take place at any moment.
[Image: Architect of the Capitol]
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