November 15, 2010; Source: Dallas Morning News | It’s good to have big goals, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) may just have the mother of all goals. Rather than just stem the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities, it wants to eliminate them for good. To achieve that goal, the Irving, Texas-based nonprofit is pushing for development and deployment of technology that will prevent cars from starting if the driver is intoxicated.

The group is lobbying Congress to add a provision to the Motor Vehicle Safety Act that would make $60 million available over five years for systems that render cars inoperable if they sense drivers have a blood alcohol level above the legal limit. These systems, which could take years to develop, would scan tissue from the driver’s finger or use infrared light sensors to detect alcohol levels, according to the Dallas Morning News.
The paper also reports that the group wants a new federal law that would mandate that drivers convicted of drunk driving have interlock devices installed in their cars. Twelve states currently have such laws requiring that drivers breathe into a device in their car’s dashboard that checks for alcohol.

Not everyone is cheering MADD on, though. The restaurant-backed American Beverage Institute (ABI) charges that MADD has crossed a line, and is now gunning for social drinkers. “They are no longer a mainstream organization,” said Sarah Longwell, ABI’s managing director. “When they talk about alcohol sensing technologies, ultimately what it does, it eliminates people’s ability to drink anything before driving.” Longwell added, “It’s not about drunk driving anymore, it’s about trying to demonize any drinking prior to driving.”

MADD shrugs off claims that it is a “neo-prohibtionist” group. Kimberly Earle, executive director, says MADD is “against drunk driving and we want to help children not drink before they’re 21. That doesn’t have anything to do with people making responsible choices.” Ultimately, says Earle, “We’d really like to put ourselves out of business.”—Bruce Trachtenberg