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8 Jul

New tech could put the brakes on drunk driving

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Since the automobile was invented over a hundred years ago, it has been shown that alcohol and operating a motor vehicle (drunk driving) is a lethal combination. Driving under the influence (DUI) has one of the steepest penalties associated with driving infractions. According to the anti-drunk driving organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), approximately 10,000 people are killed yearly by drunk drivers and 290,000 more are injured. While the statistics vary with age, gender, and time of accident, the one fact most cannot ignore is the $199 billion annual price tag. With today’s technology, there are solutions available to save money and put the brakes on an extremely dangerous decision that has proven time and again to be fatal.

While some people who have been previously convicted of drunk driving charges have an ignition interlock device (IID) installed onto their cars to prevent any repeat drunk driving incidents, the installation of an IID is reactive when it comes to drunk driving rather than proactive. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been working on a Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) since 2008.

The video shows two types of anti-drunk driving technology. The first prototype relies on breathalyzers. Unlike the current IID technology, it can be mounted on the steering wheel or the driver-side door, and doesn’t require you to breathe into a device—it can “smell” your breath before you take the wheel. The other device, a touch sensor embedded on the ignition or the gear shift, can scan your finger for your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). The current legal limit is 0.08, and the car won’t start if it detects that your BAC is above that.

“There is still a great deal of work to do, but support from Congress and the industry has helped us achieve key research and development milestones,” said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind to The Detroit News. Rosekind also mentioned two very at-risk groups for drunk driving. “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 a powerful new tool in the battle against drunk driving deaths.”

Drunk-Driving

Even though the idea will save lives and money, some groups are opposed to the new technology. According to the American Beverage Institute (ABI), a restaurant association, the device won’t make an impact on reducing the amount of drunk drivers on the road. “’Voluntary’ passive alcohol sensors like DADSS will do nothing to keep these dangerous drivers off our roads. Instead, DADSS will simply stop many responsible social drinkers who have a glass of wine with dinner from starting their cars,” said ABI managing director Sarah Longwell.

While many automakers are also developing their own anti-drunk driving tech as well, the tech is still in the research and development stages and could take several years to get to market. Even if DADSS is complete, it will also face legal hurdles if lawmakers push for it to become mandatory in newer models of automobiles, or even if they make it mandatory for all automobiles currently on American roads.

One solution would to make DADSS easily transferable across automobiles, and that will require a lot of collaboration between government agencies and automakers and not pass the cost onto the driver. However, it is all for a good cause—to end the deadly habit of drunk driving.

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