Driven to Protect partnership between Virginia DMV, James River Transportation, and automakers is the first of its kind.
The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) Research Program is developing a first-of-its-kind alcohol detection technology that can detect when a driver is impaired with a blood alcohol content (BAC) at or above the legal limit of 0.08% and will prevent the car from moving. Once DADSS technology has met vigorous performance standards, it will be voluntarily offered to vehicle owners as a safety option, similar to other driver assist systems like automatic braking or lane departure warning.
The Program brings together the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS), which represents the world’s leading automakers, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in one of the most important government and private sector partnerships in recent years. Public-private partnerships like DADSS have led to innovations that enhance our everyday lives, such as the internet, GPS and the microchip.
When the Program began in 2008, DADSS focused on research and creation of proof-of-concept prototypes to determine which technological approaches were most promising for vehicle integration. After extensive research, it was determined that two technology options were most viable: a breath-based system and a touch-based system.
In 2013, ACTS and NHTSA extended their agreement, and the Program entered a new phase to reduce the size of the systems and ensure strict performance specifications are met relating to speed, accuracy, precision and reliability. As part of the ongoing research, the prototypes will be integrated in vehicles for a series of field tests, which will allow engineers to observe driver behavior in natural settings and thoroughly test the systems in real-world scenarios. Once completed, auto manufacturers will be able to offer the system as a safety option in new vehicles. It will take time for this pioneering technology to be available commercially, but developing a system that is seamless, accurate and reliable is the first step and a top priority.
Two technologies are being researched: a touch-based and a breath-based system. The breath-based system measures alcohol as a driver breathes normally, when in the driver’s seat. It will be designed to take instantaneous readings as the driver breathes normally and to accurately and reliably distinguish between the driver’s breath and that of any passengers. The touch-based system measures blood alcohol levels under the skin’s surface by shining an infrared-light through the fingertip of the driver. It will be integrated into current vehicle controls, such as the start button or steering wheel, and take multiple, accurate readings.
A significant part of the DADSS Research Program has been the establishment of DADSS Performance Specifications related to speed, accuracy, precision and reliability. These rigorous standards are based on the Department of Defense’s technology and manufacturing readiness levels, and they are in addition to manufacturers’ six-sigma quality requirements, which demand that every piece of safety equipment installed in passenger vehicles as original equipment performs correctly 99.9997% of the time.
With this combination, the DADSS technology will be held to unprecedented standards to ensure BAC levels are measured quickly and reliably. Not even medical instruments are engineered to have such strict specifications. The DADSS Program is being overseen by a team of engineers and scientists, and will be further tested in real-world operating conditions and by independent third parties before being made available as a consumer option.
The DADSS technology is designed to take the guesswork out of BAC measurement and give drivers the certainty they will never put themselves or others in danger by driving over the legal limit. The system can also give parents an extra layer of protection and additional peace of mind knowing that if their children have been drinking, they won’t be able to drive.
For the first time, all drivers will be able to take advantage of a system that is seamless and nonintrusive, representing a breakthrough in technology and vehicle safety. We believe that consumers will want to purchase the technology as a safety option once they learn more about its life-saving potential.
The national Program was authorized and funded as a research program to advance the state of alcohol detection technology. Congress did not mandate the use of any technology in the authorization. When the Program is complete, automakers can further develop and install the technology into cars and trucks. They will be able to offer the system voluntarily in new cars the way they do for other advanced vehicle technology features, such as lane departure warning or automatic braking, and consumers will have the choice whether they want to purchase it as a safety option.
With the alcohol detection technology, when a driver has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above the legal limit of 0.08%, the vehicle will start, but not move. This allows the driver to remain warm (or cool) and safe in the vehicle, make a call for help or charge a phone. The system will reset and be ready for another test less than a second after each reading, and will move only when the driver’s BAC is below the legal limit.
The alcohol detection technology is being designed to accurately distinguish between the driver and other passengers. The touch-based technology could, for example, be based on a touchpoint programmed by the driver, similar to today’s smart phones, which could also serve as an anti-theft measure. The breath-based technology is testing sensors near the driver’s seat to best isolate the driver’s breath. Either system will require a retest if the person in the driver’s seat gets out of the seat and another person sits down.
Because the technology will be seamless and integrated into the vehicle’s cabin, it will not contain large pieces of physical equipment that could be tampered with from inside the vehicle.
Yes, the technology will be an additional cost for those who choose to purchase it as a safety option for their new vehicle. While the exact cost per vehicle has not yet been established, it will be in line with other voluntary safety systems like automatic braking or lane departure warning. As with any new technology, the more vehicles are equipped with the system, the lower the price will be.
Maintaining data privacy has been considered from the early stages of the DADSS Program and remains an important priority for all those involved. Both the legislation authorizing the Program and the cooperative agreement ACTS and NHTSA are operating under state specifically that security measures and operating procedures must be put in place to protect data from the inadvertent release or disclosure to unauthorized parties.
Today, all automakers have security measures in place to protect customer data from being accessed by unauthorized parties, and DADSS will be no different. In the meantime, the leading automakers involved in the DADSS Program have joined with consumer advocacy groups to establish voluntary privacy principles and to provide standards and guidance on future in-vehicle technologies. For more about these principles, click here.
The sole focus of the DADSS Program is on developing a system that detects a driver’s alcohol concentration. In theory, a similar system can be developed that might detect when drivers are under the influence of THC but the development of such a system would present additional challenges beyond those faced by an alcohol detection technology. For example, drugs like marijuana linger in the system longer than alcohol, and researchers have not yet determined where the legal limit should be set. These challenges, and more, face researchers as they look at the different types of drugs that could affect safe driving behavior, whether over-the-counter, prescription or illegal.
Self-driving cars are a key part of the future of vehicle technology and vehicle safety. However, the same questions of reliability, policy and liability that face the alcohol detection system face self-driving cars, but on a larger scale. While it may be technically possible to have a self-driving vehicle in the next decade, these early models will rely heavily on the ability of an unimpaired driver to take control of the wheel as a precaution. Self-driving car technology is still decades away from completely removing the need for an unimpaired driver.