By Brooke Williams
The Driven to Protect Initiative and Virginia DMV presented new alcohol detection technology at Wednesday’s highway safety summit.
By Zach Doell
Every year, drunk driving results in over 10,000 deaths in the U.S., each one of them preventable. It’s a heart-wrenching statistic, but thankfully new technology is under development that could drastically reduce this figure, and it may arrive sooner than one might think.
The solution, according to the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety program (DADSS), can be found in two advanced alcohol testing methods—using breath-based sensors and touch-based sensors.
In the breath-based system, an infrared sensor located behind a car’s steering wheel measures blood alcohol content (BAC) by analyzing the ratio of oxygen-to-alcohol molecules in a driver’s breath. No need to blow into a dedicated breathalyzer mouthpiece. Similarly, in the touch-based system, infrared sensors in a car’s gear stick, steering wheel, or ignition button could read BAC through a driver’s fingertips, and do it multiple times in less than a second.
If these BAC readings exceed the U.S. legal limit of 0.08 percent, the vehicle’s battery can still operate systems like heating and air-conditioning, but the ignition will remain locked and the vehicle will not move.
DADSS, which was formed as a joint initiative between the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS), says the high tech sensors could be made optional on new car models in the future, similar to many of today’s advanced safety features such as collision assist or lane departure warnings.
Program director Bud Zaouk recently told the Boston Globe that his team is less than a decade away from bringing the devices to market, and his initiative could see a drastic increase in funding. In July, New York Senator Charles Schumer announced plans to co-sponsor New Mexico Senator Tom Udall’s “Research of Alcohol Detection Systems for Stopping Alcohol-Related Fatalities Everywhere Act,” which would provide an additional $48 million in funding for DADSS over the course of six years.