Will Future Cars Sense When a Drunk Driver is Behind the Wheel?

Will future cars be able to detect potential drunk drivers before they even turn on the ignition? According to regulators, the technology to make that possible is already in development. Last month, the Department of Transportation announced two new, in-cabin technology systems it believes could be a featured option in all new cars by the end of the decade.

According to The New York Times, the first of these systems will incorporate sensitive, infrared touch pads that will measure alcohol content via a driver's finger or palm. Developers are still deciding whether the touch-based technology should be included on steering wheels, ignition push buttons, or even both, in the effort to prevent sober passengers or bystanders for triggering a car starter for an impaired driver.

The second system incorporates breath-detecting technology similar to breathalyzers already used by most police departments. Unlike breathalyzers, however, these breath-analyzers would not require breathing into a tube or constant calibration: they would be calibrated only once and use ventilation in the steering column to sense the driver's normal breathing. If either system detects a blood alcohol content higher than the legal limit, it will either prevent the car from starting or shut the car down, much like an ignition interlock device.

Both technologies, which are being funded by regulators and a group of auto manufacturers as part of the new Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, are still being honed for consumer use. Jeff Michael, associate administrator for research and program development for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, hailed the potential of the technology, but reiterated that both systems have to be “highly accurate, very fast and completely passive" before they are released to the market.

The Future of DUI Policing?

The New York Times notes that The American Beverage Institute is one of the view voices that has been outspoken against the new technology. They claim it operates on a number of assumptions about drunk driving and targets everyone rather than the "hardcore drunk drivers" who are usually involved with dangerous accidents. They also said that it could prevent casual or social drinkers from using their car.

Jeff Michael countered those arguments, claiming that the technology is being specifically developed to be faster and more accurate than anything previously seen before. According to him, drivers who enjoy a drink at dinner will be not be prevented from normally operating their car.

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