By Sarah Longwell
For years the American Beverage Institute (ABI) has been urging the hospitality industry to pay close attention to the evolution — both legislatively and technologically — of the in-car, alcohol sensing technology known as an ignition interlock. From the beginning, the ABI maintained it was the ultimate goal of pro-interlock activists to install this technology as original equipment in all cars. And, even more disconcerting, we knew that once interlocks were in all cars, they would, for both practical and liability reasons, be set well below the legal limit of .08 percent BAC. This prospect — the elimination of substantial on-premise consumption — would devastate the hospitality industry.
Today, that prospect is dangerously close to becoming a reality.
In November, the New York State Legislature unanimously voted to pass the harshest interlock bill in the nation and the governor signed it immediately. Not only will interlocks now be required for even first-time offenders arrested at one sip over the limit, but driving while intoxicated with a minor in the car will be a felony offense.
New York’s passage of this law gives MADD’s interlock campaign added momentum. There is already talk of dozens more states passing the same law. The New York Times wrote, “Albany’s toughening of penalties for drunken driving should prompt other states to follow suit.”
But other states might not have a choice. Congress will be moving to pass the Highway Bill in the coming months. That bill has an extreme interlock mandate that would force every state to punish all first-time DUI offenders with an in-car breathalyzer, even if they are just one sip over the legal limit. States would lose highway funding if they do not comply with the mandate. The Senate is also considering a bill with the same interlock requirement.
Keep in mind, though, that these interlock mandates are just a means to an end. MADD’s goal is to see interlocks in all newly manufactured cars.
Recently, the influential National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) published a 2,100-word pro-interlock article championing this movement to put alcohol sensors in all cars. Researchers have narrowed the technology down to three options: touch sensors, air sniffers and advanced breathalyzers.
In fact, both Toyota and Volvo introduced advanced in-car breathalyzer technology this year to be installed on fleet vehicles that will lock out a driver who has had anything to drink.
The leaders of this campaign have begun discussing how to implement a universal mandate. At this time, experts in the field agree that it would fall under the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) authority. That’s also the group funding the universal interlock research project.
The NCSL article painted a worrisome picture of those behind the interlock movement: government agencies, lawmakers, public safety groups, anti-crime groups, research organizations, the auto industry and the insurance industry.
Once in all cars, interlocks will destroy your on-premise business. Leaders in the movement have admitted that universal interlocks would be set below the legal limit. For legal, liability and logistical reasons, the devices will likely be set at 0.02 or 0.03 percent BAC. That means the end of moderate drinking prior to driving. It means the end to a mixed drink, a beer or a glass — forget a bottle — of wine with dinner.
If we continue to let our opponents control the debate, our industry won’t only be losing battles like the one in New York — we’ll lose the war.
The time has come for everyone in the industry to stand together against this movement.
We can either have our industry manage this issue or be managed by it. Contact us if you want to get involved.
Sarah Longwell is the Managing Director of the American Beverage Institute (ABI), in Washington, D.C., an association of restaurants committed to the responsible serving of adult beverages. Email her at Longwell@abionline.org.