In future, cars might decide if driver is drunk

Jan 28, 2011 By BOB SALSBERG , Associated Press
Laura Dean Mooney, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), holds up a photograph of her late husband Mike and their daughter as U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stands behind her during a news conference announcing the new Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) in Waltham, Mass., Friday morning, Jan. 28, 2011. Mooney's husband was killed 20 years ago by a drunk driver. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

(AP) -- An alcohol-detection prototype that uses automatic sensors to instantly gauge a driver's fitness to be on the road has the potential to save thousands of lives, but could be as long as a decade away from everyday use in cars, federal officials and researchers said Friday.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood visited QinetiQ North America, a Waltham, Mass.-based research and development facility, for the first public demonstration of systems that could measure whether a motorist has a blood alcohol content at or above the legal limit of .08 and - if so - prevent the vehicle from starting.

The technology is being designed as unobtrusive, unlike current alcohol ignition interlock systems often mandated by judges for convicted drunken drivers. Those require operators to blow into a breath-testing device before the car can operate.

The Driver Alcohol Detection Systems for Safety, as the new approach is called, would use sensors that would measure blood alcohol content in one of two possible ways: either by analyzing a driver's breath or through the skin, using sophisticated touch-based sensors placed strategically on steering wheels and door locks, for example.

Both methods eliminate the need for drivers to take any extra steps, and those who are sober would not be delayed in getting on the road, researchers said.

The technology is "another arrow in our automotive safety quiver," said LaHood, who emphasized the system was envisioned as optional equipment in future cars and voluntary for auto manufacturers.

David Strickland, head of the , also attended the demonstration and estimated the technology could prevent as many as 9,000 fatal alcohol-related crashes a year in the U.S., though he also acknowledged that it was still in its early testing stages and might not be commercially available for 8-10 years.

The systems would not be employed unless they are "seamless, unobtrusive and unfailingly accurate," Strickland said.

The initial $10 million research program is funded jointly by NHTSA and the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, an industry group representing many of the world's car makers.

Critics, such as Sarah Longwell of the American Beverage Institute, a restaurant trade association, doubt if the technology could ever be perfected to the point that it would be fully reliable and not stop some completely sober people from driving.

"Even if the technology is 99.9 percent reliable, that's still tens of thousands of cars that won't start every day," said Longwell. Her group also questions whether an .08 limit would actually be high enough to stop all drunken drivers, since blood alcohol content can rise in people during a trip depending on factors such as how recently they drank and how much they ate.

"It's going to eliminate the ability of people to have a glass of wine with dinner or a beer at a ball game and then drive home, something that is perfectly safe and currently legal in all 50 states," she said.

LaHood disputed that the technology would interfere with moderate social drinking, and said the threshold in cars would never be set below the legal limit.

In Friday's demonstration, a woman in her 20s weighing about 120 pounds drank two, 1 1/2 ounce glasses of vodka and orange juice about 30 minutes apart, eating some cheese and crackers in between to simulate a typical social setting, said Bud Zaouk, director of transportation safety and security for QinetiQ.

Using both the touch-based and breath-based prototypes, the woman registered a .06 blood alcohol content, Zaouk said, so she would be able to start the car.

Laura Dean Mooney, president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said the technology could "turn cars into the cure."

While she did not foresee the alcohol detection system ever being mandated by the government, Mooney, whose husband died in an accident caused by a drunken driver 19 years ago, said she could envision it someday becoming as ubiquitous as air bags or anti-lock brakes in today's cars, particularly if insurance companies provide incentives for drivers to use those systems by discounting premiums.

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Nik_2213
1 / 5 (1) Jan 28, 2011
Uh, a car's all-weather / winter screen-wash additive usually contains some alcohol: If your aircon is set to fresh rather than recycle, you could get enough sucked through vents to immobilise your vehicle. Can you imagine the furore when dozens of drivers freeze to death because they could not re-start their cars ??
rwinners
not rated yet Jan 28, 2011
Good luck on this one. It will be 'defeated' before it hits the production line.
The frigging insurance industry is going bonkers about 'safety'. It will soon be illegal to allow your pet to 'roam' about the interior of your automobile. Next, there will be a requirement for 4 point harness restraints. I mean, seatbelts and air bags seems overkill to me. But who am I? Certainly not an insurance exec.
Moebius
not rated yet Jan 29, 2011
As a member of DAMADD (drunks against mothers against drunk drivers), I won't own a car that has this feature and I'd disable or bypass it if I did.

MADD is full of crap. There is no set level of being impaired, it varies from person to person. It varies by driving expertise too. I would bet my license that I can drive better and safer at the legal intoxication limit than 99% of the female MADD members sober. I would bet that most of them are impaired drivers when they are totally sober. Most of the stupid shit I see drivers do are by women. Then there's the elderly. Most of them are that impaired when they are sober too. There are plenty of people who would fail a breathalyzer and not be as impaired as too many elderly drivers.
nada
not rated yet Jan 29, 2011
Here we go again.

Its BAD if a drunk driver kills someone.
Its OK if a tired driver kills someone.
Its OK if a texting driver kills someone.
Its OK if a cell phone driver kills someone.

MADD is not interested in keeping people from getting killed. They are prohibitionists hiding behind traffic accidents.

I'm all for making the roads safer - but that's NOT what is going on here. The obsurdity of mis-regulations of causes proves this.

The prohibitionists and legislated sales promoters holding hands.
Eikka
not rated yet Jan 29, 2011
Here we go again.

Its BAD if a drunk driver kills someone.
Its OK if a tired driver kills someone.
Its OK if a texting driver kills someone.
Its OK if a cell phone driver kills someone.


Three wrongs won't make one right. This has nothing to do with what else impairs driving ability.

The fact that some people argue that they are "safe" drivers at the legal limit is plain bullshit. There are no safe drivers because driving is inherently dangerous, and being drunk is just an easily avoidable additional risk no matter how good a driver you are.

Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Jan 29, 2011
How about we work on self driving vehicles and just completely remove the ability to drive drunk.

Blow into the lock out and if you fail the car is locked in auto drive, if you pass, you are free to manually drive. Sound acceptable?
Nik_2213
not rated yet Jan 29, 2011
FWIW, I'm a 'designated carer', so must be stone cold sober 24/7. There's enough fumes from amply applied screen de-icer to potentially trip such a device, regardless of my zero blood alcohol...
nada
not rated yet Jan 29, 2011

Three wrongs won't make one right. This has nothing to do with what else impairs driving ability.

The fact that some people argue that they are "safe" drivers at the legal limit is plain bullshit. There are no safe drivers because driving is inherently dangerous, and being drunk is just an easily avoidable additional risk no matter how good a driver you are.


I didn't argue that there are safe drunk drivers. I am clearly pointing out the hypocrisy of picking out a single CAUSE to a common EFFECT, when, without a doubt, there are other equally as dangerous causes that are OK because those causes have big money behind them.

My question is why does MADD ONLY go after the one cause? Prohibition, that's why. If we were TRUELY concerned about the EFFECT, then we would criminalize all 4.

I've personally only seen 2 drunk drivers my ENTIRE LIFE. HOWEVER, I have near-misses WEEKLY from A-holes talking on cell phones.
Moebius
not rated yet Jan 29, 2011
Here we go again.

Its BAD if a drunk driver kills someone.
Its OK if a tired driver kills someone.
Its OK if a texting driver kills someone.
Its OK if a cell phone driver kills someone.


Three wrongs won't make one right. This has nothing to do with what else impairs driving ability.

The fact that some people argue that they are "safe" drivers at the legal limit is plain bullshit. There are no safe drivers because driving is inherently dangerous, and being drunk is just an easily avoidable additional risk no matter how good a driver you are.



Didn't say I was safe at the legal limit, just safer than many sober drivers. And if that's true then it's discrimination to keep lowering the alcohol limit while not cracking down on sober bad drivers.
COCO
not rated yet Jan 31, 2011
A Canadian company remains well ahead of this and have devices - ACS - Alcohol Countermeasures Systems of Toronto.
Nice to see America in the race however late - Cheers - Jan 31 2011