Could New Tech Make Drunken Driving a Thing of the Past?

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The technology is called DADSS, but for a motorist unconcerned with the dangers of drunken driving, it might seem like Big Brother. The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, born of a cooperative effort by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and an alliance of 17 automakers, the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, could one day be as ubiquitous as antilock brakes and, researchers hope, every bit as effective in saving lives.

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The project — begun in 2008 with the goal of “assessing the effectiveness and feasibility” of in-vehicle alcohol-detection technologies, according to NHTSA — has produced a pair of new systems that prevent drivers from starting their vehicles when their blood alcohol concentration exceeds the legal limit of 0.08 percent. Both were created in 2011; one uses touch-based sensors that measure the driver’s BAC through skin contact, and the other uses a breath measurement taken by sensors mounted in front of the driver.

Researchers designed the systems to be fast, effective and inconspicuous — so much so that the driver or passengers might not even know they’re being evaluated. That’s opposed to the obvious (and potentially embarrassing) method of requiring the driver to blow into a tube to start the car. DADSS technologies both measure BAC using infrared light when someone merely sits in the driver’s seat and breathes normally or touches a designated surface.

“In order to be considered for widespread deployment, the DADSS technology must be seamless, accurate, and precise, and unobtrusive to the sober driver,” NHTSA said in a statement.

According to USA Today, the technology could be car-ready within five to eight years, and the added cost is expected to be in line with other safety advances such as collision avoidance braking or lane departure warning. The new systems likely would be sold as optional equipment and could take the place of existing ignition interlock systems, USA Today reported.

“We have our sights set on inventing a world without drunk driving,” Rob Strassburger, CEO of the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, told USA Today.

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