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Will the New Impaired Driver Monitoring Requirement Jeopardize Privacy?

Examining the Advanced Technology Mandate in the Infrastructure Act

December 20, 2022

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has been given the task of implementing monitoring systems that will deter impaired drivers. The 2021 Infrastructure Act requires the DOT to create a mandatory motor vehicle safety standard to “passively monitor a motor vehicle driver’s performance to accurately detect if the driver may be impaired.”

Under the act, the DOT must set a safety standard for using blood alcohol detection technology within three years, after which vehicle manufacturers will have between two to three years to install the systems in all new passenger motor vehicles manufactured after the effective date. This means that the systems will be required for all new vehicles beginning November 2026, although they could potentially be rolled out sooner. The DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will flesh out the particulars and will create more detailed regulations. 

Though the text says “passively monitor,” the bill’s language seems more intrusive. SEC. 24220 (b)(A)(ii) of the act states the system can “prevent or limit motor vehicle operation if an impairment is detected.” This description sounds reminiscent of the breathalyzer ignition interlock devices, frequently installed on previously offending drunk drivers. These devices require the driver to blow into a tube to prove that they are below the blood alcohol limit before they can start their car. 

The deterrence measures include more than just checking in to see if a driver is intoxicated. The language is broad enough to include measures to deter sleepy or inattentive drivers. 

Several issues must be addressed as the technology is implemented, including accuracy, data collection, and data storage. While the “advanced impaired driving technology” may potentially dissuade impaired drivers, its implementation raises concerns about the heavy-handedness of government mandates and the potential impacts on drivers and passengers. 

Accuracy is a vital issue, as any errors could lead to discriminatory or unfair treatment of drivers. Additionally, the collection and use of personal data must be carefully considered to ensure it is limited, reasonable, and processed safely and fairly. 

It is worthwhile for the public and policy researchers to keep an eye on this development. It is easy to imagine that facial recognition and emotion detection AI would be used to “determine” if a driver is tired or inattentive. During COVID lockdowns, public schools tried eye-tracking to gauge student boredom. Would that be ported over? Furthermore, will there be records kept by the deterrence measures? Will it record and analyze drivers? Who owns and has access to the data? These questions will be important. 

Jonathan Hofer is a research associate at the Independent Institute. He holds a BA in political science from the University of California, Berkeley. He has written extensively on both California and national public policy issues. His research interests include privacy law, local surveillance, and the impact of emerging technologies on civil liberties. He is the author of The Pitfalls of Law Enforcement License Plate Readers in California and Safeguards to Protect the Public, COVID in California and Automated License Plate Readers: A Study in Failure, and his articles have appeared in such publications as The Hill, Towards Data Science, Human Events, The American Conservative, Real Clear Education, California Globe, Orange County Register, and The Daily Californian.
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