Soon your car won't let you drink. But it won't care if you're on the phone

Alcohol sensing tech still in the labs, testing to come

Drink drivers jumping behind the wheel of a car after a boozy session at the pub might just find they are going nowhere fast, if alcohol sensor technology finally comes into play. Which it might at some point.

Breath and touch-based sensors, to be used in cars to detect the amount of alcohol in the blood, are currently being researched by DADSS (Driver Alcohol Detection Systems for Safety).

The safety feature is designed to detect if a driver has downed more than the legal limit of alcohol, and then triggers a system that shuts down the vehicle.

In the breath-based version, a beam of infra-red light is directed at molecules in the breath. Carbon dioxide and alcohol molecules absorb different amount of light so a measurement can be made.

“The location and precision of the sensors, combined with engineered cabin air flow, enable the system to capture and test only the driver’s breath,” the DADS video stated.

As for the touch-based technology, a sensor in the car ignition or gear stick determines the blood alcohol level below the skin of the driver by shining a beam of light onto the finger - infra-red tissue spectroscopy.

“Alcohol absorbs specific wavelengths of light. By measuring the light’s intensity, the system can precisely pinpoint the driver’s blood alcohol level,” DADS claimed.

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.

The research, which started in 2008, is being run by DADS in partnership with the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety - representing 17 car makers - and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

Mark Rosekind, an administrator at NHTSA, said it still has a lot of work ahead of a release, but he expects the technology to be ready for testing in a few years.

“DADSS has enormous potential to prevent drunk driving in specific populations such as teen drivers and commercial fleets, and making it an option available to vehicle owners would provide powerful new tools in the battle against drunk driving death,” he said in a statement.

When the technology is ready it can be purchased in much the same way as someone would buy Emergency Brake Assist or Lane Departure Warning.

But a spokeswoman for the American Beverage Institute told Detroit News, that a “voluntary” system will do nothing to help the situation.

“Instead, DADSS will simply stop many responsible social drinkers who have a glass of wine with dinner from starting their cars”.

Cars may be getting smarter; sadly, some of the people that drive them remain pretty dumb. ®

We can't help noting that using a phone while driving is by some measures just as dangerous as being drunk. It would seem a lot easier to develop technology to detect when a driver was using a phone. -Ed.

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