What If Your Car Could Stop you From Drunk Driving?

The Government is Hoping New Tech Could Do Just That

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It’s an old problem with frightfully still-relevant statistics: Despite progress, drunk driving claims more than 10,000 lives each year, and costs the country approximately $199 billion. Could the answer to preventing drunk driving lie in groundbreaking new technology in the car itself? The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Detroit’s big three automakers are hoping that answer is yes. The groups have joined forces to create a Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, or DADSS.

How it Works

The System starts in the vehicle itself, before the driver ever turns the ignition. It’s called an Alcohol Detection System (ADS) and once developed, it will detect “when a driver is intoxicated with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at or above 0.08 – the legal limit in all 50 states – and prevent the car from moving,” according to DADSS.org. The group is actually exploring two technologies: a breath-based system, and touch-based system. In the breath-based system, you exhale normally and a sensor in the door or steering column shines a beam of infrared light on the molecules in your breath. This works because carbon dixoide and alcohol molecules absorb different amounts of light, and the sensor can compare the two, making it easy to measure alcohol levels precisely.

Drunk driving claims around 10,000 lives per year.

Another cool point on the breath-based system? The location and precision of the sensors, combined with a cabin air flow designed specifically with this system in mind, mean that the system captures only the driver’s breath, not any “Boy-I’m-glad-you’re-driving-Steve-because-I’m-kind-of-blasted” passengers.

The touch-based technology, on the other hand, reads blood-alcohol below the skin’s surface, again employing infrared light technology to determine alcohol content. Science breakdown, part two: Alcohol absorbs specifc wavelengths of light, so by measuring the light’s intensity, the system can pinpoint blood-alcohol content precisely—and again, in less than a second. Watch the video for more:

The Opposition

The idea is that you could purchase the system as you would any other safety feature add-on, like emergency brake assist or lane departure warning systems. But some groups have voiced opposition to the technology, arguing that it will not dissuade truly reckless drivers, but instead punish social drinkers: “‘Voluntary’ passive alcohol sensors like DADSS will do nothing to keep these dangerous drivers off our roads. Instead, DADSS will simply stop many responsible social drinkers who have a glass of wine with dinner from starting their cars,” American Beverage Institute Managing Director Sarah Longwell told Detroit News.

Indeed, with a DADSS system in place, a car simply wouldn’t move if its driver “blew” (or touched) above the legal limit. For drivers under 21, for whom any amount of blood alchohol is illegal, the system can be programmed for a zero-tolerance policy.

What’s Next

The system’s creators hope the technology, which has been under development since 2008, could be fitted inside new cars by the end of 2020—and, perhaps most hopefully, could save up to 7,000 lives per year in the U.S.

“Public-private research partnerships like DADSS have led to innovations that enhance our everyday lives, such as the Internet, GPS and the microchip. Now we have our sights set on inventing a world without drunk driving. There’s more work to be done, but through this broad coalition of support, we are driven to successfully complete this life-saving technology,” says Rob Strassburger, President and CEO of the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS).

We at Quoted are obviously incredibly hopeful about such technology. But we must also admit that the ABI’s point is interesting: Just how powerful do you think voluntary technology like this could be? And, if you believe voluntary technology has its own limitations, what would you think of this kind of technology being mandatory?