In the Future, Cars Won’t Let Motorists Drive Drunk

In the future, an anti-drunk driving campaign message might well be, “Cars Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk.” Good news for car insurance rates?

Alcohol continues to be an important factor in about one-third of fatal crashes. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2012, crash deaths involving drunken drivers increased almost 5% over 2011, exceeding 10,000 fatalities. That’s why researchers are busy at work on the development of two different technologies that could automatically detect your blood-alcohol content (BAC) either through your touch or your breath – basically leaving the decision if you’re sober enough to drive, in the hands, or wheel, of your car.

The Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety and the NHTSA have entered into a cooperative research agreement to explore the possibility and potential benefits of more widespread use of in-vehicle technology to prevent alcohol-impaired driving. The research program, started in 2008, is now working on developing prototypes to be installed in a research vehicle.

The NHTSA recently extended its agreement with automobile manufacturers to develop the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS). The DADSS program was 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).

The system would detect if a driver’s BAC was above the legal limit of 0.08% and prevent them from driving if it’s too high. At the end of 2013, the program was extended for five years, with the group pledging an additional $6.5 million to support the research.

This technology is different from current alcohol-detecting ignition interlock systems, which are placed in someone’s vehicle if he’s convicted of driving under the influence. Those bulky systems require the driver to blow into a tube and prevent the vehicle from starting if alcohol is identified. In comparison, the DADSS project is working to develop low-profile devices that can detect when a driver is impaired by alcohol.

How current technology works in ignition interlock devices:

The devices:

  • Require drivers to provide breath samples each time they try to start their vehicles.
  • Require periodic rolling tests while the vehicle is in operation and stop motor vehicle operation at any measureable BAC level.
  • Require regular maintenance to ensure proper operation (okay for convicted DWI offenders, but too invasive for widespread use).

According to DADSS, to be suitable for use among the general public, this new technology must be:

  • Far less intrusive and not impede sober drivers from starting their vehicles.
  • Capable of rapidly and accurately determining and measuring BAC.
  • Small, reliable, durable, repeatable, maintenance free, and relatively inexpensive.

Researchers are hopeful the new technology – most likely to be integrated into new cars rather than being modified to fit into older models – will be practical for widespread use by the time this latest agreement between NHTSA and auto manufacturers expires in 2018.

An official with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety believes that once the technology is commonly available, the rate of alcohol-related fatalities will be reduced, along with an added bonus in the form of decreased car insurance rates.

Do you think this new technology will help decrease alcohol-related accidents? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.