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Can Car Tech End Drunk Driving?

Technology under development could detect alcohol on a driver's breath—or even through the skin.

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By May Wilkerson

03/28/12

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DUIs could soon become a thing of the past—recalled only with a hazy "nostalgia"—thanks to new alcohol-sensing technology for cars that's currently in development. Eventually, auto-makers could be required to install the technology—which would detect alcohol in a driver's breath or skin—in all new vehicles. It would be a huge step forward from the "interlock" system that some states currently require for convicted drunk drivers. "Interlock" devices, which test the blood alcohol level of the driver through a tube, are considered by many to be obtrusive and humiliating, and are limited only to drivers with past DUI records. Research into alcohol-sensing technologywhich has cost $10 million over the past five years and is asking for $24 million to continuehas focused on two promising options: tissue spectrometry, which would use a laser touchpad to detect alcohol in human tissue, and distant spectrometry, which would use sniff tests to gauge alcohol levels on a driver's breath. The restaurant industry is among those opposing the idea, claiming that a glass of wine with dinner could leave responsible drinkers stranded after a night out, or that occasional malfunctions could prevent sober drivers from starting their cars. And one hole in the plan is that it only detects alcohol, allowing stoned, tripping or coked-up drivers free access to the road. But stats show alcohol is involved in one-third of traffic-related deaths in the US—that's roughly 11,000 deaths per year.

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