Too Drunk to Drive? There’s a Car for That

February 2nd, 2011 | Sources: Washington Post


Drunk driving continues to be a serious problem. In 2009 for example, alcohol was a factor in more than 10,000 highway deaths. The same year, a stunning 10% of respondents to a survey of US adults said they had operated an automobile while drunk during the previous year. Nearly 6% said they had done it more than once.

So how would you feel about a car that can instantly detect whether a driver is drunk and prevent that person from starting the car?

You better make up your mind quickly, because scientists are close to perfecting this technology.

“We’re five to seven years away from being able to integrate this into cars,” Robert Strassburger, the VP for safety at the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers told the Washington Post. The AAM, an automotive trade group, is on the development team for the new technology which is being spearheaded by the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The anticipated sensing device will look nothing like the breathalyzer machines currently used by police in the field. Instead, it will be comprised of tiny, passive, touch-sensitive sensors that are permanently affixed to a key fob or a starter button. The sensors can determine blood alcohol levels in seconds.

From a technical standpoint, the biggest challenge is to craft a sensor that analyses and responds to tactile information within about a third of a second. Current versions of the sensor take 20-30 seconds to do this. Team members are confident however, that advancements in solid-state electronics and infrared technology will help them achieve their goal.

After that lies the most nettlesome problem of all. Will car buyers purchase vehicles with these devices? Obviously, cost will be a concern, but more important will be the fears people have that the newly empowered vehicles will prevent them from driving home after enjoying a drink or two.

The device “establishes a situation where you are guilty until proven innocent every time you get into your car,” Sarah Longwell, who represents the American Beverage Institute told the Post. “Most Americans would say: ‘Absolutely not. I don’t drive drunk, and you’re not going to put that in my car.'”

Longwell added that her organization would support universal use of the devices if they were calibrated at 0.08–the legal drunk driving limit. She fears however, that the devices might be set lower than that. “Americans are 100% behind the fact that you shouldn’t drive drunk,” she stated. “But they’re not ready to give up the glass of wine with dinner, the beer at a ballgame or a champagne toast at a wedding.”


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