Friday, December 16, 2005

TCS Daily: Blood Alcohol Blues

Over at TCS Daily (formerly Tech Central Station) Max Borders actually offers an alternative solution to what is in his eyes (I happen to agree) a problem. The problem is the lowering of BAC limits for an individual to be considered legally drunk. Being the ripe young age of 24 I still am frequently around people drinking, and drinking in large quantities. As such, the effects of varying amounts of booze on different individuals does not escape me. I know 250 lb guys who are considerably impaired after two or three drinks and I know 108 lb girls who can polish off a twelver with no problem. The problem with BAC in determining the ability to drive is that blood alcohol content measures just that, the amount of alcohol in your blood. It does not measure your ability to react to various situations, BAC gives only an indication as to the impairment of an individual. Should the pettie girl who can drink like a fish, blow a .10 and still drive go to jail while the house of a man who drinks like Nicole Kidman from Blind Date but only blows a .04 is sent on his way?

Mr. Borders offers an interesting solution at the end of his piece which may or may not be feasible, but at least he is trying to solve a problem.

So the question comes down to this: Are there other (non-cost prohibitive) standards available for testing drivers? One’s that actually test for impairment?
You bet -- and they’re inexpensive.
My tentative suggestion would be a portable driving simulator. If we train fighter-pilots and astronauts on sims, why not test drivers with them? In fact, there are all sorts of computer programs sitting on servers at different universities around the country, not to mention in for-profit companies. There are programs for everything from learning to drive an eighteen wheeler, to -- eureka -- testing people’s driving abilities under the influence.
Even if we thought the driving simulators extant were somehow insufficient for the task of determining whether or not someone is impaired, we know the technology exists and that a prototype for cops could be worked up in a matter of months. Don’t believe me? This following list of games should give us an idea of what’s out there:
 Beta Research Driving Simulator
 Gran Turismo 4
 Subaru (Online Simulator Game)
 Drivesquare
I admit that a formalized simulation might have to be studied extensively. But the technology is there: 3-D virtual reality glasses, algorithms that recreate physical forces, graphics, sound -- and everything else cool and realistic that you might find in your kids’ X-Box 360.
While such new technologies may have to be reworked and tested for use as a legal standard, it’s certainly a significantly better objective standard for determining whether a person is capable of driving than breathalyzers. And while there may be a minor inferential step from someone’s score on the simulation to the presence of alcohol in her body, such a step is far, far narrower than the giant leap between BAC and impairment.