Alcohol Detection Devices May Soon Become Mainstream

By Beth Leipholtz 04/09/19

The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety could be ready for commercial use as soon as next year.

driver in a car with an alcohol detection device

A device now used only for those convicted of driving under the influence may soon become a universal piece of equipment in vehicles. 

According to the Washington Post, government-funded researchers have been working on an ignition interlock for the past 10 years. The device would require drivers to measure their blood alcohol level before starting their vehicle and would prevent them from doing so if over the legal limit.  

The device, dubbed the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS), would measure a driver’s BAC in two ways: one would be breath-based (and would not require a mouthpiece), while the other would be touch-based. The most important features of the device, according to officials on the project, is that it be “fast, precise and just about perfectly reliable in many different driving conditions,” as well as cheat-proof. 

Robert Strassburger serves as president and chief executive of Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, which is part of the DADSS initiative. He tells the Post that while similar devices already exist, they simply aren’t up to the necessary standards. 

“They are very difficult to use—they require that you provide a very large volume of breath from the very depths of your lungs,” he said. “Even people who use them regularly and are experienced in using them typically fail to provide a sufficient breath sample about 30% of the time.”

Strassburger tells the Post that one of the most vital aspects of the device development is determining how humans process alcohol. 

“That is one of the most significant challenges facing us in the development of this technology: How we, as individuals, absorb and eliminate alcohol is a function of our gender, our ethnicity, underlying health problems, [and] what we might be doing before or after we’ve consumed alcohol. All of that we have to understand,” he said.

Strassburger states that the breath-based measurement would be done without a mouthpiece and would simply entail breathing from the driver’s seat. The touch-based system would work a bit differently.

“If you’ve ever been to the doctor or the hospital and they clip that thing on the end of your finger that measures your pulse and the oxygen content of your blood, that’s a similar kind of concept,” he said. “We're looking below the surface of the skin at your capillary bed and measuring how much alcohol is in your blood that way.”

According to Strassburger, researchers are still working on a way to ensure that the breath or touch would be coming only from the driver and no one else. 

If successful, experts predict the new devices could prevent 10,000 deaths annually. The device could be ready for commercial use as soon as next year.

Last year, Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles utilized the device, and it’s also being road-tested currently at James River Transportation, a private company in Virginia.

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.