Relying on Technology in lieu of Teaching our Kids to be Responsible Adults

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 30th, 2013

Week in Review

There was an episode of Madmen showing Don Draper spending an afternoon drinking beer while working on a present for his daughter.  Then his wife said he had to go pick up the birthday cake.  He was not happy about this.  But poured himself a drink and left anyway.  Taking his glass of bourbon into the car.  And drinking from this glass while driving.

This is only a television show.  But a television show noted for its accurate portrayal of life in the 1960s.  People drank.  And drove.  With some crawling from their car to their front door because they were too drunk to walk.  And life went on.   Teenagers watched driver’s education films like Red Asphalt.  And still became Don Drapers.  Despite all that gore.  To this day we still drink and drive.  Well, for a little while more, at least (see Auto safety initiative seeks to reduce driver errors by Jerry Hirsch posted 11/29/2013 on the Los Angeles Times).

Auto safety regulators are pushing for new equipment to protect motorists from their biggest threat: themselves.

They’re aiming to keep drunk drivers off the road with the help of onboard technology that immobilizes their cars…

Now NHTSA and a coalition of 17 automakers are working on the so-called Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety. The DADDS system uses sensors in the cabin to measure blood-alcohol content by breath or touch to ensure a driver is below the legal 0.08% threshold for impairment…

But some have reservations about these high-tech minders. The restaurant lobby opposes what it sees as an encroaching nanny state. Some analysts predict the equipment could add hundreds of dollars to the cost of each vehicle. And even some car enthusiasts say that imperfect technology could alienate the public it’s supposed to protect.

Jack Nerad, an analyst with auto information company Kelley Blue Book, imagined a scenario in which sensors picked up alcohol on the breath of passengers, preventing the designated driver from getting them home.

“You are reliant on the technology to be 100% perfect or your car doesn’t start,” he said. “That makes people very, very angry…”

Mistaken alcohol readings or faulty seat-belt sensors could put motorists in harm’s way if they’re stranded during emergencies or in remote places.

Where the DADDS system will set the blood alcohol limit could also prove contentious.

NHTSA says it will be the .08% level at which a driver is legally considered impaired, a ceiling that is supported by Mothers Against Drunk Driving…

But a slightly higher limit might leave a margin of error that reduces false positives without greatly increasing the frequency of drunk-driving crashes, said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.

The majority of people who were killed in drunk-driving crashes last year were in collisions in which a driver had double the legal limit, according to NHTSA data…

“We are opposed to mandating this technology on all cars as original equipment,” said Sarah Longwell, managing director of the American Beverage Institute, a restaurant trade association. “You are not going to solve the drunk-driving problem, which is a small, hard-core population of offenders, by treating everybody like a criminal.”

She said drinkers could find ways to evade the technology. For example, they could quickly throw down some shots and already be on the road by the time their blood-alcohol level crosses the .08% limit.

“And then what is going to happen?” Longwell asked. “If you crash your car and you are well above the legal limit, can you sue the manufacturer? Who has the liability?”

Good point.  Who do you sue?  The bartender for serving the shots?  But why should the bartender worry about a patron’s sobriety when his or her car won’t start if this person is too drunk?  Which would be great for the drinking industry.  No more worries about someone leaving too drunk to drive.  Because the car will determine that.  So while the bartender may have cut them off after 3-4 shots there is no reason to cut them off at all now.  Because their car won’t start if this person is too drunk to drive.  So you can’t really hold the drinking establishment responsible.  For the new technology takes on that responsibility.

So do you sue the car manufacturer?  They’ll blame the American Beverage Institute who lobbied against the 0.08% limit.  Saying that raising it to such a high level (something above 0.08%) that it didn’t detect the drunkenness of the driver until after they started their car and entered traffic.  Will they require a time lapse between the driver’s last drink and the time they can try starting the engine?  A link between the bar’s POS system and the car?  This would be ridiculous.  Add more costs to a car.  And add more technology that can be ‘not perfect’.

What happens if some rowdy men spill a drink on a woman in a bar.  Who then leaves the bar.  But cannot start her car because of the alcohol spilled on her?  And then the rowdy men follow her to the parking lot.  And proceed to smash her windows to get at her.  While she can’t do anything because her car won’t start.  And they rape her.  Who gets sued then?

They used to hang horse thieves in the old West.  Because if you stole a man’s horse you put his life in great danger.  A car is the modern day horse.  Something you depend on getting you home safely.  And it is so reliable that we never imagine it not getting us home.  But now your car may strand you.  Leaving you to the dangers surrounding you.  And it may cause you to abandon your drunken friends to find their own way home.  Because you don’t want to take any chances your car won’t start.  By having their drunken asses in the car with you preventing you from getting home.

Of course it begs the question.  What will they do to protect us from people texting and driving?  Which has surpassed drinking and driving as a greater danger?  Technology that shuts off your engine whenever it detects a cell phone in use?  Imagine someone turning on their cell phone when you’re in a center lane on a limited access expressway.   Shutting off your engine.  And your power steering.  While you desperately make your way to the shoulder during rush hour traffic.

Perhaps we need a little less technology and a little more Red Asphalt.  For many of our problems would go away if we would only teach people to be responsible.  Instead of relying on technology to protect us from the irresponsibility of others.

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