Americans seem to have lost awareness of our system of government with national blood-alcohol-content mandates in cars.
Remember that massive infrastructure bill that even Republicans supported? Here’s a little tidbit that slipped through unnoticed:
In President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure law there is a mandate that will require all new vehicles to come equipped with advanced impaired driving technology, to curb the amount of people who get behind the wheel after drinking.
According to the bill, in 2019 there were more than 10,000 drunk driving related fatalities that involved a driver with a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit in the United States. The technology will be able to passively monitor a drivers blood-alcohol level to determine if a driver is impaired or not. The car could prevent or limit someone’s ability to drive under the influence.
At least the RI ACLU’s Steven Brown is willing to go on the record with some concerns, but the two most important ones don’t seem to occur to anybody: the rule of law and the flawed assumptions of competence.
On the first count, it may come as a surprise to younger readers that we used to debate whether the federal government had unlimited power. We used to worry, for example, that abuses of federalist clauses in the Constitution and budgetary bullying were allowing Washington, D.C., to dictate things like seatbelt use and drinking ages. Maybe the policies were good and maybe they weren’t, but how they were implemented mattered. Those concerns appear to have completely evaporated if Congress and the President can simply require that every new car include nanny-state technology that forces us to buy cars that spy on us.
This trend won’t stop with things like blood-alcohol detectors that many Americans might support conceptually.
The second count — the flawed assumptions of competence — is a relatively new one to occur to me, taught as a shouldn’t-have-been-surprising lesson of COVID. Basically, we accept these laws and regulations under the present circumstances and the assumption that the government will be able to execute competently. Using COVID policy as an example, we tolerate policies that require frequent testing and situational masking under the assumption that the government and private suppliers will be able to minimize the inconvenience, but when test results begin taking a week and masks become difficult to find, those policies aren’t revised.
One of my family’s cars has a more-direct example. It has sensors on the tires to alert the driver when the air is critically low. That’s a great feature, but each sensor is an electronic device attached to heavy moving machinery that revolves at high speed in all sorts of outdoor conditions, so one of them is malfunctioning. Enter a supply-chain crisis. We’ve been waiting for about six months for the part.
In this case, the sensor is a matter of convenience, but change the story to a sensor that prevents you from driving your car, and it’s quite a different matter. Imagine if government incompetence, economic surprises, or hostile foreign action were to choke off the supply of parts for this new drunk-driving system. We could find large numbers of Americans unable to drive their cars.
To Biden and his fellow progressives, that’s probably a feature, not a bug, but sane, adult Americans have to consider such possibilities as we adopt technology and, even more, as we allow government to make it mandatory.
Featured image by Bermix Studio on Unsplash.