What would the future be like if drunk driving was made as close to impossible as it could be? That’s a question The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and industry suppliers and auto makers are trying to answer.
New technology is being created, and engineers have been working on perfecting it since 2008. The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, or DADSS for short, is a passive system requiring the vehicle operator to breathe into an interlock device. If alcohol is detected, the vehicle will not start. This is similar to what is already being installed in the cars of convicted DUI offenders in several states.
The project is taking a bit longer than expected as engineers try to figure out how to isolate the driver from other passengers in the vehicle. Currently, it is not difficult the driver to have a passenger blow into the device and get the car started.
Two technologies are being focused on as the project moves forward. One collects the ambient air of the cabin, directing it to sensors in the car. The sensors analyze the ratio of carbon dioxide and alcohol. Engineers will place the sensors in strategic areas, believing that this is the answer to determining which passenger is the actual driver.
Engineers are also considering a touch-based system. Technology would be embedded in a part of the car that the driver must touch in order to operate it. It could be the start button or the gear shift, for example. Infrared light would perform tissue spectroscopy, measuring the alcohol content of the blood just below the skin.
If either, or both, of these technologies determine that the driver is impaired, the car will not start. The makers of the technology are considering setting the universal limit at 0.08, with the option for owners to have it set to zero for underage drivers. The $10 million project is being split between various industry groups and the NHTSA.
Critics of the technology include The American Beverage Institute, stating that any flaws in the system could make it impossible to start thousands of cars each day.
It is expected that the technology will be available for production by 2020.
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