By on January 31, 2011

Though I’m generally too much of a libertarian to be a huge fan of the work of the neo-prohibitionists at Mothers Against Drunk Driving, this in-car breathalyzing technology is definitely the kind of active-safety mandate I can get behind. After all, the social debate over the the effects of and responsibility for drunk driving has taken place, and despite heavy penalties against it, drunk driving still kills too many people. Unfortunately, since this technology won’t be usable for another ten years, we’re all going to have to live with the risk of drunk drivers for quite a bit longer… and by the time this hits the streets, you had better believe that distracted driving will be a far more relevant risk factor. After all, if the current state of debate over distracted driving were compared to the drunk driving debate, the automakers would still be arguing that in-car kegerators help keep the danger out of in-car drinking… and the government would be working to set voluntary safety standards for those kegerators.

The moral of the story: by the time we recognize societal safety problems as real problems, we are already halfway to solving them… and the final 50 percent of the problem can take years afterwords to solve.

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18 Comments on “Solving Yesterday’s Safety Problems Tomorrow...”


  • avatar

    Hmm.  Here in NY, they recently passed a law saying anyone with a misdemeanor DWI (.08 or better) has to have an in car breath tester, for $125 per month (x6) and installation.  Everyone.  Never mind that you don’t want these ex stereo installers ripping your dash up, this is aimed at everyone.
    In the past, this would occur to a second timer in conjunction with 3 years probation, but you were clearly not getting the message.  Now, a second time is a Felony.
    MADD is very good at watching the news and using each and every tragedy to get another piece of the puzzle passed, and useless legislatures like NY actually pass this stuff where they can’t do anything useful, as it is very clear and plays well in the news.
    Our local probation department has gone from 90 new folks per month to over 400, with the new law.  Most DWI folks are not normal probationers….they aren’t criminals.
    There are two types of DWI clients….those who got caught out, the vast majority, and those who are always drunk, and drive occasionally.  We are now using the hammer for the chronic drunky against the first timers.
    How does this gadget separate the designated driver from his three or more friends who have just “won” the tequila shot contest and are now being driven to get some greasy food ?

  • avatar
    FleetofWheel

    Has anyone invented a black box yet that is essentially a can of compressed human breath?

  • avatar
    Steve65

    The MADD spokeswoman voices a common and widespread misconception that underlies any number of theoretically viable but ultimately pointless “safety” measures. Specifically, the belief that because any given failure could have been prevented, it is therefore possible to prevent all such failures.

  • avatar
    George B

    I propose that Ray LaHood’s own cars be used to test the prototypes so he can experience their inconvenience.  If the Secretary of Transportation doesn’t drive a car, beat him with a serpentine belt and replace him with someone familiar with the most popular mode of transportation in the United States.
     
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transportation_in_the_United_States
    Passenger transportation is dominated by passenger vehicles (including cars, trucks, vans, and motorcycles), which account for 86% of passenger-miles traveled.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    I’m about as far from being a Libertarian as possible, but I can’t embrace this.  One, what happens when this malfunctions or false positives due to too much mouthwash?  Or, a guy who wisely chooses not to drive until sober, will the interlock prevent engine operation so the guy freezes to death in his car?  How much does this cost?  How long before a Youtube video shows how to disable it?  There has to be  better way…

  • avatar
    RGS920

    I’ve represented clients who had interlock systems placed in their car because they are habitual DUI offenders.  The system costs approximately $1000.  However, interlock systems are easy to circumvent because you just get a sober friend to breath into the tube.  The touch method looks promising if they can combine it to read a person’s finger print.  That way only the driver of the car would be able to start it. 

    Also if anyone ever asks you to breath into their interlock system don’t do it!  Besides the obvious danger with enabling someone to drive drunk, at least in the state I practice, it is a crime to disable or circumvent an interlock system.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Ultimately, cars will drive themselves and driver impairment will no longer be an issue.

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    “The moral of the story: by the time we recognize societal safety problems as real problems, we are already halfway to solving them… and the final 50 percent of the problem can take years afterwords to solve”
     
    I have to challenge this. There are lots of people working in various fields who recognize and are able to make reasonable predictions about potential safety and other problems (e.g., ethical, legal, political, and so on) associated with the introduction of new forms of social life (particularly as relates to the introduction of new technologies) long before those problems are fully realized and recognized at a public level. There are many, for example, who claim that the best way of preventing many of these problems is to regulate or restrict the development of new technologies in the first place. Most people react strongly against this of course, because they think technological research and development should occur entirely within the free market and should not be regulated in any way. This is usually supported by the deep-seated belief (a kind of ‘technological faith’) that technological progress is necessarily good. So deep-seated is this belief that many people think that progress is technological progress (and can have no other form). But there are a wide range of people who challenge these beliefs and the questionable assumptions upon which they rest and who say that, because of the large scale social, legal, ethical and political impacts that new technologies have, then issues related to technological research and development should be recognized as a social and political issues, and not merely as engineering issues or as simple matter of private enterprise. Many argue, for example, that because of the potential severity of the problems some technologies bring about, that these kinds of technologies actually lay the groundwork for justifying increase levels of government regulation and police surveillance precisely because of the increased dangers the technologies pose or permit. If true, then this would be a good reason for thinking twice about developing such technologies. I realize this is going to raise the ire of some people here, but I would suggest that this is due to the fact, at least in part, that most people have not reflected deeply and seriously enough about the powerful role that modern technology plays in shaping social life. The impacts of new technologies tend to be broad and long lasting (e.g., the social effects of the automobile in North America vs mass transit in parts of Europe and Asia) and this makes them political issues and not merely engineering or free market issues. This kind of critical reflective stance is not anti-technological, by the way, but is trying to get hold of the technologies upon which we have become so dependent so that we can begin to stand in a better, healthier, more autonomous relation to the technologies we employ.
     
    Your claim that safety problems are halfway to being solved by the time they are recognized sounds more ideological than factual. In my experience this kind of claim tends to rest upon a strong faith that technology will be able to solve all the problems that it creates (such as the problem with distracting information technology). This tends to be a deep-seated belief among technofiles and society at large, and embodies the spirit of instrumental thinking writ large. This technological faith also tends to be associated with a libertarian belief that all problems are best solved within the free market, a position that rests upon overly simplified and extremely problematic conception of human nature and the myth of the atomic, rationally self-interested individual. You can make this kind of claim, of course, and will likely have many here who will support it, but I will suggest that as a general rule (you will always find a few exceptions here and there) it simply will not hold up under more careful and rigorous scrutiny.
     
    For those supporters of an unregulated free market I will add here that even if it is true that safety problems are being solved as they are being discovered (a claim I would seriously challenge), then it is also clear that the urge to solve them is not coming directly from the marketplace itself, but from a marketplace that knows that, because of the government emphasis on safety, they will have to meet safety regulations related to these problems and so plan to meet them early in their development.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      This ignores that suppressing the development of technology, or attempting to “guide” it (which is usually the same thing) also has negative side effects. It also assumes that the people arguing for suppression or “guidance” don’t have an agenda that serves their needs or wants (but have been disguised as being in “everyone’s interest’), or always know what is best. Both of these ideas could be described as naive at best.

      As for this: Your claim that safety problems are halfway to being solved by the time they are recognized sounds more ideological than factual.

      In this case, it’s true. Drunk driving deaths have declined dramatically over the years, but you’d never know it by listening to MADD press releases. MADD, of course, is driven as much by the need to justify its existence as it is to stop drunk driving.

      For that matter, the entire automobile safety effort gathered steam after a dramatic reduction the fatality rate per 100 million miles driven was already in progress. We were already well on our way to addressing the problem when Ralph Nader’s book appeared in 1965. The fatality rate had been dropping steadily since the early 1950 (when records of this sort were first compiled). 

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      “This ignores that suppressing the development of technology, or attempting to “guide” it (which is usually the same thing) also has negative side effects. It also assumes that the people arguing for suppression or “guidance” don’t have an agenda that serves their needs or wants (but have been disguised as being in “everyone’s interest’), or always know what is best. Both of these ideas could be described as naive at best.”
       
      Sorry, but it doesn’t ignore this at all. A proper discussion or debate of these kinds of issues would take into account the negative side-effects of both regulation and non-regulation, but at least it would begin a process of discussion and debate. As things presently stand there is virtually no discussion or debate whatsoever, and people are forced to adapt to new technologies that they themselves have had no say in developing. As it presently stands technological research and development is non-democratic, it is neither by the people nor for the people, but is being pushed forward by private interests seeking to maximize capitalistic gains, and yet the results of these efforts are being imposed on people at large as a ‘lifestyle’ to which they must adapt. The effects of many new technologies are akin to the effects of new legislation, and yet while we will debate the pros and cons of various legislative proposals to death, we leave the lifestyle changes wrought by technological innovation and development in the hands of private interest groups. This is not the way in which a society should be shaped.
       
      As to the question of regulations being directed by people with non-public interests, this is certainly possible, but that is why these things need to be made part of a public, democratic political process. This would still be preferable to the current situation where social life is being shaped by a group of profit-oriented technofiles whose narrowly focused profit-making interests are almost certainly not representative of the interests of the people as a whole.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      You can’t effectively regulate what doesn’t exist (meaning the new technologies). I’ll take the free market over a group of bureaucrats or elected officials who respond to the most hysterical elements of society when deciding what technologies to choose or allow in my life.

      As Winston Churchill once said about democracy, it’s a lousy form of government, but, in the real world, everything else is worse. It’s the same with comparing the free-market approach to letting annoited technocrats or elected officials make these decisions. And asking the average person to give opinions on new technology is like asking them what life would be like on Pluto if we colonized it. Speculation that basically amounts to a creative writing exercise is not what I want guiding my life.

      And, yes, we do have choices. You don’t have to adopt every new technology that comes down the pike. Your real objection is that the overwhelming majority of people DO want the new technology in question…otherwise, its introduction would basically be a non-event.

      No one worried about of the Internet or cellphones, for example, until they became common. How did they reach that point? Once they were affordable, it turned out that the great majority of people really did want them.

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      You quote Winston Churchill and yet deny the very democratic process that I’m referring to. While the free market can be an important and helpful element of a democratic society, do not conflate Democracy with free market economics. They are separate and distinct notions.
       
      There’s real choice, and then there’s choice in a purely abstract, ideal sense (which is the kind libertarians almost always resort to in these kinds of arguments). Someone may have the formal, abstract choice not to use computers, not to buy ‘smart clothing,’ not to own a car, or not to let their kids play video games, but in reality there are a host of compelling forces that place huge penalties upon us (or our kids) if we do not ‘comply’ with the demands and real constraints that our social structures place upon us. Not only would one become a social ‘pariah,’ but it would be difficult to actually go about one’s business in a day to day manner if we did not adapt ourselves to the ‘reality’ (a reality we’ve constructed, by the way) of the current form of technological life, a form that could be very different if we had made different choices in the early stages of the development of certain key technological.
       
      Most people ‘choose’ to own an automobile because they actually need one for day to day living. They need one because of the ‘automobiled’ way our society is structured. Cities are planned and designed on the assumption that people use automobiles. Most people can’t just walk to their local grocery store or hardware store, they have to drive to the mall or the big box commercial ‘park.’ If you’re going to talk about choices, then talk about choice in its real lived context, not in some abstract ideal sense of the term. The idea of ‘choice’ in the way most free market lobbyists use that term is an empty notion, it sounds great in theory but does a lousy job when applied to the real world conditions within which we actually live.
       
      When I talk of technology here I’m referring to the entire technological and institutional structure, the system, that builds up around the implementation of certain technologies. Look at the social infrastructure that is designed, built and supported by the internal combustion automobile. It is an extremely complex network of physical structures (roadways, suburbs, car dealerships, gasoline stations, and so on), institutional structures (corporations, government, research facilities, and so on), social conditions (employment, urban design, and so on), as well as a host of other conditions that are all woven together in a complex fabric supporting, maintaining and advancing the internal combustion automobile. These are powerful social forces that shape people’s lives in compelling ways, and they all exist to support the automobile. You have to think of technology in this complex, systematic, structural sense to appreciate the force of my arguments. You can say that someone can ‘choose’ not to buy a car or, in the more recent example, not to buy a computer, but look at how deeply integrated computers and information technologies have become in our society. It would be akin to self-imposed exile to refuse to use a computer in our society, and focusing on simplified examples of choice just miss the point. To reduce such complex issues to some abstract, idealized notion of choice is simplistic to say the least, but that’s almost always where people go in these kinds of discussions.
       
      You can talk about the virtues of democracy all you like, but as I see it, it’s just talk. In actual fact you are opposed to democratic process, as your cynical reference to the “average person” having any say in things clearly professes. You may speak as if you support democracy, but the process you outlined, a process where the future shape of society is determined by technofiles and corporate interests is nothing like a democratic society as I understand the term.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      Philosophil: You quote Winston Churchill and yet deny the very democratic process that I’m referring to.

      If society has adopted the automobile or computers on a widespread basis, it’s because the majority of people WANTED to use those technologies. You complain about people being “forced” adapt to new technologies…but they are only really forced to do so because such technologies are popular.

      If only a bunch of computer nerds at Cal Tech or MIT or the Pentagon used the Internet (and the computers to access it), no one would be complaining about the impact of computers and the Internet on society. But people wanted to access the Internet, and businesses and government responded, and it grew. 

      In the 1940s and 1950s, most people WANTED to own a car. Talk to your older relatives. They preferred cars to the use of public transportation in most cases, and even when they used public transportation to go to work, they still wanted to have a car to use for personal business in the evenings or during the weekends.

      These technologies have been adopted freely by the majority of people because the benefits outweighed the disadvantages. If anyone is denying the democratic process – in this case, as applied to adoption of technology – it is you, primarily because there are inevitably some people who don’t like the outcome.

      You also surely realize that the outcome of the democratic process is that the desires of the majority rule. This is true whether we are talking about an actual democracy, or the democratic process you refer to in the adoption of new technologies.

      In essence, your complaints are really no different than people who believe that they should not have to pay tax dollars to support defense spending or social welfare programs because they either don’t believe in them or would never use them. Unfortunately for them, society has decided that it doesn’t want to disband the armed forces or abolish Social Security or Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF).

      Philosophi; While the free market can be an important and helpful element of a democratic society, do not conflate Democracy with free market economics. They are separate and distinct notions.

      While one is a form of goverment and the other an economic system, they are linked to each other in the sense that markets are likelier to be free (or, at least, less encumbered by government interference) in democratic societies. Plus, a free market, boiled down to its bare minimum, consists of people “voting” with their dollars.

      And many of the arguments you use against allowing technology to spread via the free market – as opposed, I assume, to a managed process - are really the same used by people dissatisfied by the outcome of actual elections.

      Philosophil: In actual fact you are opposed to democratic process, as your cynical reference to the “average person” having any say in things clearly professes.

      No, what I said is that I trust the millions of people who have made their choices freely and without being “guided” by bureaucrats and politicians who think that they know better. Because they don’t – no one can possibly envision the total impact of a new technology. Nor can the average person. As I said, you might as well ask them to describe what life will be like on Pluto. The predictions will be just as accurate.

      Also note that  politicians and bureaucrats will likely pick those citizens who want to stop the technology for a variety of reasons – their version of morality, or the fact that their ox will be gored by the technology – and promote them as “average citizens” when they are anything but.

      The simple fact is that new technology DOES threaten the status quo and can upend both established industries and some sacred cows. On that, you are correct. What you miss is that most of us do not care. The internet and various websites are undermining traditional outlets of journalism. Some have gone broke, and others are being forced to adapt to changing reader expectations.

      This is not necessarily a bad thing. And it certainly isn’t my problem. I’m not going to give up the Internet or limit anyone’s access to it so that Newsweek can stay in business.

      Your approach will, over time, favor the status quo and entrenched interests, who will furiously resist any change, all the while employing the langauge you use in your posts to hide their self-interest. As you have said, you have to look at how things work in the real world, and this is EXACTLY how it does work.

      Philosophil: You may speak as if you support democracy, but the process you outlined, a process where the future shape of society is determined by technofiles and corporate interests is nothing like a democratic society as I understand the term.

      Again, you are assuming that just because I have and several others have adopted a technology that we did so because we were forced to do so, or didn’t know any better. Which, of course, is not true.

      I’m assuming that you want some sort of government agency – or quasi-government agency – to regulate or “manage” the process. For this to be done well, or at least with some semblance of competence, it must utilitize people with knowledge of the technolgy. Who are these people? “Technofiles” and people who likely either work for corporations in this industry or have worked for corporations.

      You keep stressing the need to remember how things work in the real world and not rely on theory. Well, unless you accept this, you are relying on theory, because this is how government regulation and management work in the real world.

      You can’t hire a bunch of philosophers and poets – unless they have relevant experience with the technology or industry in question – to manage the introduction or rollout of new technology. Any other belief is hopelessly naive.

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      “You can’t hire a bunch of philosophers and poets – unless they have relevant experience with the technology or industry in question – to manage the introduction or rollout of new technology. Any other belief is hopelessly naive.”
       
      I never said this, nor did I suggest it. The research, design and development of new technologies should be placed in the hands of those best qualified for such things. Engineers, computer scientists and other such people are usually quite bright in certain things and tend to be very good at what they do, which is how we should want it to be. But as talented as they are in their fields of expertise, I don’t want the future direction of society being shaped solely or even primarily by engineers. Similarly, entrepreneurs, CEO’s and such tend to be very good at assessing and promoting conditions conducive to maximizing profit. In other words, they’re good at making money. But I don’t want the future direction of society being dictated by CEO’s. We should all have a say in the future direction and shape our society takes, and that includes everyone from engineers and CEO’s to philosophers and poets.
       
      Your emphasis on WANTS (your emphasis) is extremely problematic. Not only is it often extremely hard to distinguish between wants and needs (partly because what was once a ‘want’ can very quickly become a ‘need’), but also because it is often very hard to tell when the so-called ‘objective’ WANTS that you keep referring to are in fact ‘natural’ or constructed.’ It is a common platitude in marketing schools that while some business people may respond to wants, others create them. Further, given the complex nature of social forces it is not clear whether an alleged ‘want’ is an expression of an person’s individual ‘nature,’ or whether it is a product of the social/political environment in which they have been raised and that has helped shape their expectations and values. Taking about WANTS as if they were the simple and pure expression of an individual’s ‘nature’ is to remain blind to the kinds of social, market and other forces that can be involved in the construction of such things. People don’t always act on their own ‘personal’ or ‘individual’ wants, they also act on wants that they have been conditioned to accept as desirable measures of social and other forms of success, and it is very difficult if not impossible to distinguish ‘genuine’ wants from those that are the result of social conditioning from market forces and other kinds of cultural contexts. And you don’t need to look very hard or very far to find endless examples of the sort of things I’m talking about. So please don’t speak of WANTS as if they represented some kind of primitive, natural fact about human beings that the market responds to in a purely reactive way, because the evidence weighs too strongly against it.
       
      I find it ironic that you end your last post with a disparaging remark about philosophers (and poets) because the very ideas and principles upon which your own market-oriented, libertarian position rests is itself grounded in the work of philosophers, and in particular the political philosophies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (e.g., Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Adam Smith–whose work was heavily based on Locke, Hume and others–and a range of other lesser known figures). It is the ideas of these men (and it is largely ‘men’ too, by the way), that serve as the basic assumptions upon which much thinking today rests. In fact, the thinking of this period is so deeply ingrained in our current mindset that it almost appears ‘natural’ to some. But there has been considerable work done within philosophy since then that has brought to light severe and troubling problems in some of the basic assumptions upon which these traditional political philosophies/theories rest (one of the foremost being the ‘myth’ of the self-interested, atomic individual). Unfortunately, however, it usually takes a long time before philosophical ideas and principles enter into the public mindset, so most people are still working from these older, more questionable theories.
       
      I’ve said that engineers, computer scientists, business people, and other types all tend to have various talents suited to their purposes and functions. All of these people with all of their talents have an important role to play in helping to maintain the advance a well-ordered society. But I would also add that philosophers have talents and expertise of their own that is often quite distinct from those of other people and professions, and among these are the capacity for critical reflection, a willingness to examine and critique the deep-seated assumptions that underlie a given social order, as well as a knack for being able to view things systematically and with an eye to long as well as the short term ends. Philosophers are often among the first to point out problems and flaws in a given world view, and are often reviled and dismissed because their ideas do not accord with and support commonly held beliefs, standing instead as a challenge and a threat to the status quo. It often takes many decades, sometimes even hundreds of years for an genuinely new philosophical outlook to take hold, but I am willing to venture that the ideas you are here defending will be viewed in a very different and less ‘acceptable’ light in the hopefully not too distant future.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    meh, amachoors.  Early  in  my  mis-spent  youth, I dabbled  in  psychedelic recreational drugs. Compared  to  driving  on  bootleg  LSD, driving  drunk is  a picnic.    It was simply  a  matter  of  realizing  you are  effed up and your  reaction time is not  so  good.  Sorta  like driving  on ice, only different.  I wouldnt  be any  good at  auto-cross when  drunk, but  getting  home was no problem.  Please  note my  usage  of  the past tense

  • avatar
    FleetofWheel

    Fingerprint scanner technology is usually meant to prevent someone else from accessing a system.
     
    In the case of a chronic DUI person, the fingerprint owner himself would have motivation to make a moulding or latex cast replica of his fingerprint to evade the lockout system.
    He has total access to his car and finger tip and could work on this at his leisure.
     

  • avatar
    texan01

    Ok, so you mandate this voluntary piece of equipment. What happens is you force the people that don’t want the system, but are not prone to driving drunk or drinking at all to have to pay for a feature that they don’t want or need. They in turn buy older cars just to avoid the crapware that has been shoveled on cars in the last 10 years.
    Id rather have the stereo installers hack up the interior of the DWI/DUI persons car than the automakers add yet another ‘feature’ that is such an annoyance that people look for ways to circumvent them, and they will.
     
    Im all for progress, but I am against the nannyfication of the world to do it.


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