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Why are we here?

The Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have entered into a cooperative research agreement to explore the feasibility, the potential benefits of, and the public policy challenges associated with a more widespread use of in-vehicle technology to prevent alcohol-impaired driving.

More than 7,000 road traffic deaths could be prevented every year if alcohol detection devices were used in all vehicles.

To be acceptable for use among the general public, including those who do not drink and drive, alcohol detection technologies must be far less intrusive – they must not impede sober drivers from starting their vehicles. They would need to be capable of rapidly and accurately determining and measuring alcohol in the blood. They would also need to be small, reliable, durable, repeatable, maintenance free, and relatively inexpensive.

The technical challenges in meeting these goals are substantial, however, the potential benefits to society are compelling. It has been estimated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that more than 7,000 road traffic deaths could be prevented every year if alcohol detection devices were used in all vehicles to prevent alcohol-impaired drivers from driving their vehicles. To achieve these goals, a step-by-step, data-driven process will be followed to ensure that effective technologies are developed. Technological solutions can be effective only if the driving public who use the technologies understand and are in favor of them. Only when technology meets the exacting standards described above, and is coupled with public favorability, will consideration be given to applying it more widely.

Frequently Asked Questions

The DADSS program has been launched to research, develop, and demonstrate non-invasive in-vehicle alcohol detection technologies that can very quickly and accurately measure a driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BACs). These advanced technologies offer the potential for a system that could prevent the vehicle from being driven when the driver’s BAC exceeds the U.S. legal limit of 0.08 g/dL.

Yes, car manufacturers continue to incorporate safety devices that have made great strides in bringing down highway deaths through the application of new technologies. But alcohol-impaired driving remains a major factor in the tens of thousands of highway deaths that occur every year. Since 1997, about a third of all fatally-injured passenger vehicle drivers had blood alcohol concentrations at or above the legal limit. The DADSS program aims to make it impossible for an alcohol-impaired person to drive a car, which could reduce passenger vehicle crash deaths by more than 7,000 per year.

The Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are engaged in a cooperative research agreement. Costs of the 5-year, $10 million agreement will be shared by both organizations. The ACTS members represent a majority of automotive companies that develop and build new vehicles for the U.S. market. ACTS has formed a Blue Ribbon Panel of experts to advise the project, including automotive manufacturers and suppliers, public interest organizations, highway safety researchers, domestic and government agencies (Canada, Sweden, and Japan), and medical and behavioral scientists.

No. Current breath-based alcohol sensing ignition interlocks have been used for more than twenty years, but they are targeted at convicted drunk drivers to prevent them from continuing to drive when measurable alcohol is detected. These devices require drivers to provide breath samples each and every time they attempt to start their vehicles. This intrusive approach is not acceptable for widespread use among the driving public, many of whom driver sober, or have BACs below the legal limit. Recent technology reviews suggest that with a dedicated research and development program and public education, a non-intrusive device may be successfully deployed in the future.

It is a reasonable expectation of the driving public that a device in their vehicle not impede them from driving if their BAC is below the legal limit. This requires that the device be fast, highly accurate, reliable, and repeatable. From the vehicle manufacturer’s perspective it must also be readily integrated into the vehicle’s existing on-board systems, be durable, require little or no maintenance, and be tamper resistant. In other words the device must be seamless to operate.

Two approaches have been identified that have considerable promise in measuring driver BAC non-invasively: 1) A touch-based approach allowing estimation of alcohol in human tissue, and 2) A breath-based approach that will allow assessment of alcohol concentration in the subject’s exhaled breath. In the touch-based approach, measurement begins when a driver touches a sensor and an infrared light is shone on the skin (similar to a low power flashlight). A portion of the light scatters several millimeters through the skin before returning back to the skin’s surface where it is collected by the optical touch pad. This light contains information on the tissue’s unique chemical properties which can be analyzed to determine the tissue alcohol concentration. The breath-based approach makes it possible to perform a contact free, unobtrusive measurement of the driver’s breath alcohol by using the concentrations of carbon dioxide as a measure of dilution of the exhaled breath of the driver. Multiple sensors placed in the vehicle cabin will allow the system to determine that the breath sample is from the driver and not other passengers.

The DADSS agreement foresees a five year program of research, development and demonstration. The first year was spent researching technologies that could potentially be used as in-vehicle equipment and system Performance Specifications were developed. After a Request for Proposal (RFP) was completed three contracts were awarded and prototype devices were developed. These prototype devices now have been developed and tested. The testing program was designed to provide an understanding of whether the devices ultimately can meet the performance specifications needed for non-invasive alcohol testing. Bench testing was undertaken to determine the prototypes’ accuracy, precision, and speed of measurement and to establish what additional development might be needed. To validate the performance of the prototypes, unique standard calibration devices have been developed for both the breath- and touch-based systems that go well beyond current alcohol-testing specifications. Limited human subject testing also permitted an understanding of the relationship among the various measures of blood alcohol provided through blood and breath samples and the breath-based and touch-based prototype devices.

Based on the results of prototypes testing, sensors demonstrating both the touch-based and breath-based approaches are judged to have the potential in Phase II development to measure BAC quickly, and with high levels of accuracy and precision. Significant additional development is needed, but the developers have identified potential technological modifications to the devices that will enable them to meet the DADSS specifications at the end of the Phase II development. Two technology providers are developing technologies under the Phase II effort: Autoliv Development AB of Vårgårda, Sweden; and Takata TruTouch Automotive Solutions of Pontiac, Michigan. Phase II development began in the third quarter of 2011. The goal of this development is to have a research vehicle available by the end of 2013 that will demonstrate both of these technologies.

The DADSS website www.DADSS.org provides extensive information on the program requirements and schedules. All relevant reports are available from the web site to assist interested parties and potential vendors in understanding more about the DADSS program. You may also contact program representatives at info@dadss.org.