By Brooke Williams
The Driven to Protect Initiative and Virginia DMV presented new alcohol detection technology at Wednesday’s highway safety summit.
By: Michael Walsh
Scientists outside Boston are developing a technology that could bring drunk driving to a halt.
The federal government and the 16 major automobile makers are funding QinetiQ North America’s $10 million Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) project.
“We have about 10,000 fatalities every year from drinking and driving,” project leader Bud Zaouk told the Daily News. “This technology could reduce 7,000 of those fatalities every year.”
Similarly, he said on CBS This Morning, that the project could create “the equivalent of the seat belt of our generation.”
The researchers have narrowed down the solution to two technologies – one breath-based, the other touch-based – that evaluate a person’s blood alcohol content.
Both approaches will require the driver to pass a sobriety test before starting a vehicle. One is a sensor mounted close to the steering wheel that assesses whether the driver’s breath is above the U.S. legal limit of 0.08.
The other is a start and stop button that will gauge each driver’s alcohol level with infrared light sent into the fingertip. The sensor will also detect whether someone from the passenger seat is leaning over to press the button, Zaouk said.
“We identified what technologies are out there that could potentially be applied,” Zaouk said. “It’s meant not to inconvenience the driver, so it has to be extremely accurate and very very fast. It will be able to tell you, in less than half a second, whether the driver is above the legal limit or below the legal limit.”
The American Beverage Institute (ABI), however, strongly opposes placing alcohol detectors in all cars. The institute, which represents more than 8,000 U.S. restaurants, claims to be worried that even if the technology is accurate over 99.9 percent of the time, it could still result in preventing thousands of sober drivers from operating their vehicles.
“DADSS supporters claim the alcohol detectors would be voluntary and set at 0.08,” said Sarah Longwell, managing director of ABI, “but there is a growing mountain of evidence showing that their true goal is to put alcohol-sensing technology in all cars as original equipment, set well below the 0.08 level.”
Zaouk told the Daily News that this is not the case.
“The technology is designed for the legal limit in the United States,” he said. “Not for any less, not for any more.”
The DADSS project started in 2008 but the organization says that the technology will not be implemented for about eight to 10 years.