Thousands of people die every year in accidents involving alcohol-impaired drivers, but the federal government is taking steps to reduce that number. Specifically, embedded within the recent $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill is a mandate for automakers to include technology that would prevent an impaired driver from operating a vehicle. The technology could be required in new vehicles as soon as 2026 and will be enforced by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). “This technology will essentially eliminate drunken driving,” according to Alex Otte, president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, in a November 9, 2021, Washington Post article.
Not surprisingly, this mandate — which does not specify the type of technology to be implemented — is raising privacy concerns. The NHTSA has been working with industry groups since 2008 to develop systems, including sensors, to discretely detect alcohol on drivers’ breaths or in their blood. Another option would involve cameras that monitor drivers for signs they are impaired. Groups have voiced reservations about the potential for these solutions to infringe on civil liberties and have raised questions about the collection and storage of driver data and who would have rights to access it. In the same Washington Post article, Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, warns against “turn[ing] our cars into government surveillance tools.”
Nixon Peabody’s Cybersecurity & Privacy team will continue to monitor developments in this issue.