Going All High Tech on Drunk Drivers

By Dirk Hanson 04/19/11

A bill in Congress would fund the creation of high-tech breathalyzers for everybody.

Deep breath. Now blow out.
Photo via duiarresthelp

Lindsay’s ankle bracelet is one example. Here’s another: “A woman puts her children in their booster seats, blows into an ignition interlock, and starts her car’s engine. Since her conviction for DWI, she hasn’t been faced with the dilemma of how to get her kids to school and drive to work.” This futuristic scenario from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is quickly becoming a reality as more states turn to interlocks as remote monitoring systems for DWI offenders. More than half of all states now mandate ignition interlock systems for some DWI offenders, and 13 states require interlocks for all convicted DWI offenders. And now, Congress just might make it a law. While today’s devices are relatively crude and installed under court order, Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Bob Corker (R-TN) are co-sponsoring a bill in the U.S. Senate that would mandate the development of advanced, mass-produced interlock systems for potential use in all cars.

While not as intimidating as RoboCop, Saratoga County of New York is already using advanced technology to curb intoxicated driving. The device requires anyone driving the vehicle to blow into a cell phone-sized receiver just as they would a police breathalyzer, and if their BAC is higher than a certain threshold (.05 percent in Saratoga County), the car will not start. In addition to the breathalyzer component, the Interceptor Ignition Interlock device is equipped with a GPS that can be used to locate and track the vehicle, a camera on the dashboard that ensures the driver and breath tester are one and the same person, and instructions relayed through a speaker on the dashboard.  Beyond rendering the vehicle inoperative, the system also sends an e-mail to the appropriate enforcement agency to alert them of possible violations. Any questions?

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]