NHTSA Unveils Prototype That Can Detect Drunk Drivers

Prototype sensors

For once in recent memory, we’re hearing about something other than the Takata air bag mess from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and we have to say as technology and safety goes, it’s pretty exciting stuff.  Thursday, the agency unveiled the first-ever vehicle prototype designed to curb drunk driving. Simply put, it’s a vehicle that uses advanced alcohol detection technology that can detect when a driver is intoxicated and stop the car from moving.

The system is known as “DADSS”, or Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, and the NHTSA teamed up with both automakers and safety organizations to develop it.  NHTSA debuted the vehicle at Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s 35th Anniversary conference in Washington, D.C.

“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,” NHTSA Chief Mark Rosekind said. “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.”

According the NHTSA’s explainer video, the in-car technology can measure blood alcohol levels in less than a second. If it’s over .08 the vehicle won’t move. What’s more, the car can be programmed not to accept any alcohol level at all, say if a driver is under 21. The technology has been in the works since 2008.

The prototype vehicle will test two types of alcohol detection systems. One technology is breath-based, but you don’t blow into a device, it samples the air in the cabin. (Current interlock ignition breath tests involve blowing into a device.) The other is a touch-based system involving the cars ignition or gear shift.

Rosekind said the agency isn’t planning to start requiring automakers to add the safety feature yet. It may take up to five years of testing to see how foolproof it is. After that, it could possibly start out in a commercial or government fleet to start.

The Detroit News reports that Congress is considering legislation to extend federal funding for the project. Back in 2013, the NHTSA reached a deal with 15 major automakers to continue researching the effort through 2018. During the first year of the extended agreement, NHTSA and automakers contributed a combined $6.5 million to help advance long-term research.

Photo Credit: DADSS/YouTube



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