Buried in the Infrastructure Bill Is a Plan to Install Sensors in All New Cars to Monitor Americans


Buried in the midst of the bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure package is a plan designed to monitor people in their private vehicles.

Tucked away in the 2,702-page bill is a provision requiring all new motor vehicles to be equipped with technology to prevent drunken driving, according to the text of the bill (see Page 1,066).

In Section 24220 of the legislation, titled “Advanced Impaired Driving Technology,” it states that no later than three years after the bill takes effect, the secretary of transportation will issue a rule to create a “Federal motor vehicle safety standard” that would require all “passenger motor vehicles manufactured after the effective date of that standard to be equipped with advanced drunk and impaired driving prevention technology.”

The bill lists two primary definitions of what this technology might entail while noting that it could be a combination of these two systems.

First, the technology can include a system to “passively monitor the performance of a driver of a motor vehicle to accurately identify whether that driver may be impaired and prevent or limit motor vehicle operation if an impairment is detected.”

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Second would be a system to “passively and accurately detect whether the blood alcohol concentration” of a driver is at or above the legal limit and limit the vehicle’s operation if this is detected.

The rationale for this requirement is “to ensure the prevention of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities, advanced drunk and impaired driving prevention technology must be standard equipment in all new passenger motor vehicles.”

The bill lays out several justifications for such a measure, noting that one-third of all highway fatalities in the United States are related to alcohol impairment and that there were 10,142 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities in the U.S. where the driver’s BAC was 0.08 or higher in 2019 alone.

The legislation cites the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which estimated 9,400 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities could be prevented by advanced technology targeting drunken and impaired driving.

According to the Daily Mail, the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety program — a public-private collaboration with partial funding from the federal government — is developing two distinct alcohol detection systems that would passively monitor the vehicle with no input from the driver.

One system places a sensor in the vehicle that tests the air to detect the BAC levels of the driver, it said.

A big concern here revolves around those kind, patient souls who decide to be a designated driver for their drunken friends. The Daily Mail rightfully noted that in order for this system to work, it needs to be able to tell the difference between a driver’s breath and that of the passengers.

The second system being developed features an infrared touch sensor built into a start button or steering wheel that could detect BAC levels through the skin, the report said.

The Senate bill includes another provision (Page 1,077) on vehicle safety: a plan to require that new cars include a system alerting drivers if children or pets are still in the vehicle before they exit. This system would include audible and visual aspects and would go into effect once the driver shuts off the vehicle, according to the Daily Mail.

Injuries and fatalities caused by drunken driving are terrible. The same goes for the death of children due to heatstroke. It would be phenomenal if neither of them occurred in America ever again.

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However, the best way to solve these problems is not by putting sensors in vehicles to monitor people.

It seems that whenever a small portion of Americans is making our country worse off, the only solution that politicians ever seem to come up with involves imposing restrictions on everyone — a vast majority of whom are law-abiding citizens. This is most prominent with the debate around gun rights, but it seems to be a handy solution for politicians regardless of the problem at hand.

There are many who will say that you shouldn’t worry about being monitored as long as you aren’t breaking the law. “If it doesn’t affect you, why does it matter?” they might ask.

Are you in favor of vehicles having this technology to detect drunken driving?

These are the same people who are completely content with the National Security Agency spying on Americans. “If you have nothing to hide, who cares what they hear?” they say.

But it is important to fight for our values and speak out when something is wrong even when it doesn’t affect us. Anything that gives the government more power, more say, more regulatory control is innately bad. This is particularly the case when it comes to privacy rights.

While not specifically laid out in the Constitution, the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut case that a right to privacy from government intrusion can be deduced from several amendments. Since then, several court cases have extrapolated upon, while others have extended, privacy rights.

However, the government — and some corporations — have been chipping away at these rights for a while now. This portion of the infrastructure bill appears to be just one more step along the way.

From the Patriot Act and the NSA’s mass surveillance of American citizens to efforts to monitor text messages for COVID misinformation or the confirmation that Amazon is listening to people’s personal conversations or the government using vehicle hotspots to track people, the powers that be have long been hard at work to erode our right to privacy.

Sure, in the two alcohol detection systems being developed, there are not any listening devices or anything too invasive — but how long before it becomes mandated that there are cameras in the car?

The point is that while the intent might be good and the invasion might seem minimal, it is indeed a slippery slope. More important to note, though, is that we have already been passively descending this slope for at least the past two decades now.

Everybody in this country would love to figure out effective ways to eradicate preventable deaths. There just has to be some better way of doing so.

During an interview on “Open Mind” from 1975, Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman said: “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.”

In this case, the intention to prevent alcohol-related and other preventable deaths is worthwhile and good.

But we should be more concerned about what this will lead to further down the road.

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Jacob Gurney was a Western Journal contributor who started his writing career at his local daily newspaper. He has also written for various online media websites covering politics, sports and video games.
Jacob Gurney was a Western Journal contributor who started his writing career at his local daily newspaper. He has also written for various online media websites covering politics, sports and video games.