Your Car Could Soon Stop You From Driving Drunk

By May Wilkerson 07/10/15

Less obtrusive and less embarrassing methods of alcohol detection are being developed.

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Your car could soon stop you from driving drunk, thanks to a new system currently in development. Technologies to combat drunk driving are evolving and the latest methods are so promising that researchers are comparing it to the seatbelt in terms of potential lives saved.

Researchers are currently working on two approaches: breath and touch. The breath system would measure blood alcohol levels on a driver's breath using sensors mounted in front of the driver seat.

The touch method would measure for alcohol under the surface of the skin when the driver touches either a start button or another designated surface in the car, using an infrared scanner. In both methods, if the driver’s blood alcohol level is measured above a certain threshold, the car won't start.

"This is the single best opportunity we have to save lives," said Bud Zaouk, director of the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS), who spearheaded the project in 2008 in conjunction with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, an organization representing U.S. auto companies.

Unlike past car tech which required drivers to blow into a tube or wait for the car to start, these new methods are less obtrusive and embarrassing for drivers. A number of experts and safe driving advocates, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving, have expressed support for the new tech.

"This car is going to be the cure," said MADD president Colleen Sheehey-Church, whose son was killed by a drunk driver. "If this technology was available then, my son would be alive today."

The technology is scheduled to be ready in the next five to eight years, said Zaouk. At this point, experts expect the system will be an optional safety feature rather than required equipment in all new cars. It could replace current ignition interlock systems, which are often court-ordered for people with prior drunk driving convictions. These require drivers to breathe in to a breathalyzer before their car can start and can cost a driver upwards of $150 out of pocket.

Drunk driving-related accidents kill about 10,000 people a year in the US, according to JT Griffin, government affairs officer for MADD. He believes this new generation of drunk-driving prevention devices will make a significant impact on reducing the death toll.

"We have a blueprint to eliminate drunk driving in America," he said. "In the next five to eight years, you're going to see another great reduction in the number of victims."

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/ @alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.

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