NHTSA Thwarts Drunk Drivers With In-Vehicle Alcohol Detection System

Despite the dangers of drunk driving being well-documented, there continue to be about 10,000 drunk driving-related fatalities in the United States each year. Sometimes, it's the drunk driver that's killed, and other times it's innocent people in the other vehicle, or pedestrians. Sometimes, it's both. The important thing is that the numbers are high enough where more has to be done, because it's clear that not everyone cares as much about drunk driving as they should.

What that reality could result in is our new cars being outfitted with technology used to detect whether or not we're impaired. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has just revealed its latest technology, called Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, and it's pretty much what you'd expect -- a car with a built-in Breathalyzer. Interestingly, though, the car also has a second option, a touch-based one.

For the Breathalyzer test, a driver's breath would hit either a sensor in the door or steering column, where infrared sensors would analyze it. Because alcohol molecules reflect different amounts of light, it'd be easy for this technology to immediately figure out if someone is impaired or not. To answer everyone's expected question: yes, this system is designed in such a way that only the driver's breath is analyzed.

The touch-based solution works in a similar manner as the Breathalyzer one, except the light is beamed into someone's finger. Once again, light will be reflected differently off of alcohol in the blood, which lets this sensor decide whether or not the driver is too impaired to drive.

Carbon Dioxide and Ethanol reflect light differently

What's really interesting about this technology is just how accurate it's being made out to be. There'd always be a worry of false results with something like this, disallowing a driver to go anywhere even when they are not impaired, and it seems likely that it'd cripple the plans of those who like to have a couple of beers over supper but are still more than capable of driving (one person's 0.08 may not feel like another's 0.08).

Nonetheless, these readings would be enforced; if a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or worse is detected, the car will simply not move. For drivers under the age of 21 (how it can detect this, I'm not sure), the system could be configured to disallow driving if any alcohol is detected in the system.

It's hard to tell just how widespread this DADSS technology could become, but it's possible that all new cars would be required to have it. Whatever happens, it will be at least five years before we see these systems put into action.