Last month, my niece was hit by a drunk driver. Her car was totaled, but luckily, she wasn't seriously injured. I recognize the terrible problem of drunk driving, and I appreciate the people and organizations committed to eradicating the pain and suffering that it inflicts on thousands of innocent people every year. I wasn't surprised last month when MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) urged automobile manufacturers to install sophisticated sensors in new cars that could detect inebriated drivers and forbid them from operating the vehicle. But I was surprised when Toyota
I learned yesterday that Toyota is now actively developing just such a system. According to reports, the cars will be fitted with detection systems that will not start the car if sweat sensors in the steering wheel detect high levels of alcohol in the driver's bloodstream. If another onboard sensor detects abnormal steering, it will bring the car to halt. The company has even indicated that it will fit the automobiles with special cameras that won't allow the car to start if they determine a driver's pupils are out of focus.
All of this sounds good, and if it saves even a single life, it's hard to argue that the technology wasn't worth it. Clearly, Toyota's being a good corporate citizen as well. But I don't think the initiative will do much, if anything, to solve the problem of drunk driving -- and it could hurt Toyota shareholders in the process.
For one thing, any moderately intelligent drunk could simply don a pair of gloves and fool the steering-wheel sensor. The other systems to stop a swerving car could cause cars to be abandoned on the side of the road, or force inebriated people to walk along the sides of freeways. That might cause a variety of equally dangerous problems, and it could expose Toyota to lawsuits from injured drunks.
In particular, I find it unlikely that the people most likely to benefit from such alcohol-detecting technology will buy automobiles outfitted with it in the first place. Because unequipped cars will still populate the road for at least the next 20 years, it strains credibility to imagine that people sufficiently determined to drink and drive won't simply purchase (or use) cars without this technology.
So while I applaud Toyota for its good ideas and intentions, I would encourage MADD and other groups to address the problem more through consumer education and advocacy for stiffer legal penalties for drunk driving. Meanwhile, automobile manufacturers such as Toyota, Ford
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