Planned Safety Tech Would Prevent Drunken Drivers From Starting Car

By Matt Schmitz  on February 13, 2014

You've heard of cars of the not-so-distant future that drive themselves. But in the even-less-distant future your car may refuse to let you drive — if you've been drinking alcohol, that is. A pair of technologies now under development would automatically detect blood-alcohol content through touch or breath and determine whether the person behind the wheel is sober enough to drive.

New Safety Tech Takes Decades to Hit Entire Car Market

According to, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has extended its multimillion-dollar agreement with a coalition of 15 automakers to develop the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety. The safety feature would gauge whether the would-be driver's BAC was greater than the legal limit of 0.08 percent and, if so, prevent them from driving. Unlike in-car devices that use a breath tube and ignition interlock systems for people convicted of alcohol-related driving offenses, DADSS would be more accurate and reliable, reported.

The project began as part of a $10 million cooperative agreement in 2008 between NHTSA and the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety's 15 automakers. The agreement was extended late last year and another $6.5 million contributed, reported. Researchers aim to have a test vehicle equipped with both touch- and breath-based technologies by 2015. The goal is to have it available commercially by 2018 — when the latest agreement expires — for integration into new vehicles, with the system likely appearing in higher-end models then trickling down to more modestly priced models.

Researchers are considering where the touch sensor would be located in the car; the push-button starter, gearshift and steering-wheel shaft are being discussed. Meanwhile, the breath sensor would have to distinguish between the driver and passengers and be able to work in, for example, a convertible.

The goal of the project is to stop drunken drivers from getting behind the wheel, preventing both crashes and legal consequences. "Right now, alcohol is a factor in about one-third of fatal crashes," according to NHTSA. "In 2012, crash deaths involving drunk drivers topped 10,000, up nearly 5 percent from the previous year."

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News Editor Matt Schmitz is a veteran Chicago journalist indulging his curiosity for all things auto while helping to inform car shoppers.  Email Matt