NHTSA Funding Development of Blood-Alcohol-Detecting Vehicle Start Button
Eventually drunk driving could one day be a thing of the past, thanks to a National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) grant to Takata Corporation and its partner, TruTouch Technologies, Inc. The $2.25 million grant, which NHTSA made through through Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) and The Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS), will make it possible for the two companies to develop a start button that will prevent vehicles from starting when a driver’s blood alcohol level is over the legal limit. The start-button technology builds upon a TruTouch-created free-standing blood alcohol detection system that is already used in law enforcement, oil and drilling, military, and transportation markets.
As Liza Barth writes in Consumer Reports:
TruTouch claims it has developed the first touch-based alcohol detection device that could be installed in vehicles. The company uses an advanced intoxication detection technology that can measure a driver’s alcohol level with infrared light. A driver’s alcohol level is determined when a finger is placed on an infrared sensor. Results are determined in seconds. This device has a built-in biometric system to prevent tampering, meaning it can’t be cheated with another person’s finger.
Investing in this company and technology is a first step in moving along the ROADS SAFE act, (Research of Alcohol Detection Systems for Stopping Alcohol-related Fatalities Everywhere). The bill was introduced in the Senate last March and over the summer in the House. It would allow $12 million in funding for five years for NHTSA and DADSS to explore the feasibility, benefits, and challenges with using in-vehicle technology to prevent drunk driving.
Currently, a number of states use ignition interlock devices which are installed into vehicles of past DUI offenders. These devices act like a breathalyzer and require the driver to exhale into the system to check for blood alcohol concentration before the engine can be started. Most states only use them for repeat DUI offenders, but a few states have mandated them for first offenders. Some states only use them for offenders with high BACs (typically over 0.15).
Kirk Morris, Takata’s vice president of business development, told the Detroit Free Press that the development team is working to reduce the blood alcohol detection system’s processing time from a few seconds to only 200 milliseconds, and for it to work at temperatures ranging from 40 degrees below zero through 85 degrees, instead of only at room temperature as it does now. Takata hopes to get the cost of having the technology in a vehicle’s start button down to $200.
“If this technology is to be used on a daily basis, we want it to be noninvasive, not intrusive. […] Drivers pushing a button wouldn’t even know it’s there,” he said.
According to the NHTSA, 32% of traffic fatalities in the U.S. are caused by drunk drivers, and, in 2009, that number was close to 11,000 people. TruTouch said its vision is “to create a world where intoxication is routinely intercepted before it does harm.” The Detroit Free Press said DADSS’s program director, Susan Ferguson, expects the BAC start buttons to be available for vehicles in eight to 10 years.
Here’s a video that shows how the start button blood alcohol detector would work in a car:
Image by TruTouch Technologies, Inc., used under Fair Use: Reporting.