Wine, BAC and driverless cars

The NYT has a column this week entitled “How Driverless Cars Could Reshape Cities” and a related blog post. They raise some interesting possibilities about the technology. Sure, it seems hopelessly futuristic, but Google is making a huge push in the technology and venture capital is following suit. (Take a look inside Google’s driverless car.)

Two consequences of driverless cars detailed in the pieces are municipal parking revenues and insurance rates. In Washington DC, 5,300 parking tickets are handed out every day raking in $80 million a year for the city. Driverless cars could eliminate that as they could feed the meter before it expires or circle the block. Also, because 93 percent of accidents are related to driver error, insurance rates could plummet as accidents decline dramatically.

What does this have to do with wine? Well, in May, the NTSB proposed having states reduce the acceptable blood alcohol level in drivers from .08 to .05, arguing that it would cut alcohol-related fatalities in half. Predictably, drinks groups called the proposal “ludicrous” among other things.

Rather than fight a reduction in BAC, the beverage industry (including wine) should embrace it as responsible. Deterrence works with DUI as the research of Benjamin Hansen, an economist at the University of Oregon has shown after crunching data from Washington State. And the national data from the past three decades indicate a decline in alcohol-related accidents and fatalities as the BAC level has come down. So taking personal responsibility is effective in this issue.

Of course, if the drinks industry wants to be positive and responsible about consuming alcoholic beverages and getting home safely, they should get in the driver’s seat (metaphorically speaking) of driverless cars. Again, the technology may seem a years away from Main Street, but obviates the need to even discuss BAC since everyone’s a passenger. Everyone would toast BAC and DUI taking a back seat.

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9 Responses to “Wine, BAC and driverless cars”

  1. Even under the simplified ideal of the charts which purport to tell you what your blood alcohol percentage will be at a given weight, sex, and number of drinks, the most “effective drinks” (my term, meaning the number of drinks net of the effects of the delay in absorption and detoxification) anyone could have and be below .05% is 2. When you consider the effects of the inaccuracy in breathalyzers, and variance in the amount of ethanol in the breath for a given level of alcohol in the blood, the most number of effective drinks anyone could safely have is 1. Women could have, perhaps, 0.5.

    Furthermore, the safety aspects of the change are misrepresented by its proponents. An “alcohol-related accident[]” (one where a party to the accident has alcohol present in his body) is irrelevant to safety. What we want to know are accidents that would not have happened but for alcohol consumption. The fact that people are intimidated into drinking less while driving, and so less people on the roads have any alcohol present in their systems, does not demonstrate that there are any safety benefits to this measure.

    If this is about safety, why are the penalties so high for DUI and so low (or non-existent) for comparable or more dangerous safety risks? If a BAC of .05% is too dangerous to drive, certainly having a cell phone conversation, talking to a passenger, being tired, changing the HVAC settings, looking for a business on the side of the road, texting, and eating are all also too dangerous to do while driving. Will any of these offenses lead to you being publicly shamed and out thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars? Does anyone who has ever driven after having 2 (or more) drinks think that that is the most dangerous behavior they have engaged in behind a wheel?

    What is this really about?

  2. Dan, in those “alcohol-related accident” stats, you’ll uncover things like someone was drunk and walked into a moving vehicle, the driver to which was sober. Alcohol was inside someone, so it’s an alcohol-related accident.

    To answer your final question: it is not about safety; it’s about anti-alcohol groups gaining the pulpit; its’ about even more than that, but this is a wine blog, not a political one.

  3. I think everyone is at wit’s end with all of the horrible car accidents that happen. The first accident with a driverless car is going to be a doozy.

  4. Dan – All those things you mention in your third paragraph are temporary distractions while inebriation affects the driver (and any passengers or others on the road) for the entire duration of the trip. So, quite different. Why not answer your own question and tell us what you really think this is about if it’s not safety?

    Thomas, I doubt the type of drunken pedestrian incidents you describe really account for very many of the statistics. But I’m willing to be convinced otherwise, if you have the data.

    Robin – Yes, that will be some bad press when that inevitably happens. Even if they remove the 93% human error, it may be a PR disaster that is impossible to overcome for the technology.

  5. Tyler,

    Not saying that the incident I describe accounts for anything more than how the statistics are compiled. An accident with a sober driver that happens to have a drunken passenger is also likely to be written down as alcohol related.

    In other words, it’s a marketing campaign of a social movement–and it won;t be satisfied until the BAC is zero.

  6. Boy, It’s no wonder the tenor of these commentaries. Wino’s want any excuse to drink and then drive if they have/choose too. After all we’re in America. A libertarians paradise where its all about me and the hell with people with whom I happen to interact. I once knew a glider pilot who swore that any alcohol in his system caused quickness in decision making to decrease the day AFTER he drank. So as much as you want to hear otherwise alcohol in any dose does effect judgement and therefore driving. So setting limits lower is not only responsible but should be mandatory. Driverless cars should help wino’s out in this regard.

  7. Yeah, Mike, except that statistically most accidents and fatalities resulting from drunk driving occur when the driver is well over the current legal limit of .08. Flawed logic.

  8. Hey, only transformed into conscious of your blog site into Yahoo and google, determined it’s genuinely insightful. Now i’m want to be cautious about belgium’s capital. I most certainly will love when you carry on this particular in future. Various other people today may be taken advantage of your current producing. Cheers!

  9. We can talk about the relative risk of intoxicated driving versus other activities that increase the risk of driving, but I’m not convinced that the advocates of this measure understand the consequences of a DUI conviction, or the risk of an erroneous DUI conviction. If this measure is passed, it is simply too dangerous to mix any amount of social drinking with driving. While some people might applaud this, the idea that this is an acceptable loss for a miniscule reduction in risk is, it appears to me, not a reasonable assessment of risk and benefit.


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