A technology to prevent drunk driving could be available in new cars within five to eight years, said Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), as Gretel Kaufman reports for The Christian Science Monitor. Rosekind presented two prototypes of the system, the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS), last week at a U.S. Department of Transportation press conference.
One of the models takes air samples from a driver’s breath but does not require the driver to blow into a breathalyzer, Kaufman writes. The other prototype is able to determine a person’s blood alcohol level through near-infrared spectroscopy after shining a light on his or her finger, Kaufman writes.
With either of the models, the ignition will not start if it is found that the driver has a blood alcohol level above 0.08. “The system can be programmed to a ‘zero tolerance’ setting for youths under the age of 21 who, under US law, are not permitted to drink a drop of the Devil’s brew,” writes Paul Kunert for The Register.
DADSS is conducting the research with the NHTSA and the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, a group of 17 car makers. NHTSA hopes the prototypes will be available in five years, although automakers are saying eight years might be a more realistic time frame, Kaufman writes. Automakers want assurance that the systems are reliable and would not keep a sober driver from starting a vehicle, David Shepardson writes for the Detroit News Washington Bureau.
The NHTSA is looking forward to the technology being available for car buyers, as Kaufman quotes Rosekind as saying:
‘The message today is not “Can we do this?” but “How soon can we do this?”‘ said Mr. Rosekind. ‘It is a huge step forward.’
There are no plans to make DADSS mandatory in all vehicles, Kaufman writes. But a voluntary system does not make sense to the American Beverage Institute (ABI), as Shepardson writes. ABI is not happy with the technology, saying that voluntary passive alcohol sensors like DADSS will not keep those who drive drunk off the roads, but will only stop “responsible social drinkers” from starting their cars, Kaufman writes.
A 2013-2014 NHTSA study found that “drivers at a breath alcohol level of 0.08%, the legal limit in every state, were about four times more likely to crash than sober drivers.” And drivers with a 0.15% breath alcohol level were 12 times more likely to have a car accident than sober drivers, the study found. (That study also found that marijuana-impaired drivers were 25% more likely to crash than unimpaired drivers, the study said.) More than 10,000 people died in drunk driving accidents in 2013, and more than 290,000 were injured, Kaufman writes.
Kunert writes: “Cars may be getting smarter; sadly, some of the people that drive them remain pretty dumb.”
Here is a DADSS video about the system: