Devices to keep an impaired driver from starting a vehicle are in use in many states, including New York, but these ignition interlocks are designed for people who already have been convicted of driving under the influence. They require a driver to blow into the device and take at least 30 seconds to compute the person's BAC from the breath sample.
However, according to the Nov. 17, 2011 issue of "Status Report" from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), in a joint government-industry effort to develop a highly accurate and unobtrusive technology that would prevent anybody with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher from starting a vehicle, two contracts have been awarded to develop systems for a test vehicle. The initiative, called Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) is a partnership of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, a consortium of automakers. The IIHS is part of an expert advisory panel. Developers of advanced in-vehicle alcohol detection technology have two years to come up with a system that can reliably determine the amount of alcohol in a driver's bloodstream in a third of a second.
This program is seeking a system that would be quick and virtually invisible, able to accurately measure BAC without inconveniencing sober drivers on every trip.
Performance specifications far exceed what already exists.
Despite great strides in reducing impaired driving deaths over the past 30 years, little progress has been made since the mid-1990s. IIHS researchers estimate that more than 7,000 deaths could have been prevented just in 2009 if all drivers with BACs of 0.08 percent or higher were kept off the roads.
How the systems might work
In the first phase of the project, prototypes of a breath-based system and a touch-based system were developed and tested, including with human subjects. The developers are expected to improve the speed and precision of their systems in the second phase. The systems will be tested to ensure they are durable enough to install in a vehicle. That means they must be able to withstand wide variation in temperature, vibration, humidity, dust, and electromagnetic radiation, among other things, according to the IIHS.
The breath-based system is being developed by Autoliv, a Swedish maker of automotive safety systems. It uses multiple sensors to measure the alcohol content of the driver's exhaled breath inside the vehicle. The position of the sensors ensures the reading reflects the breath of the driver and not passengers.
The touch-based device is being developed by Takata, a Japanese supplier of auto safety systems, and TruTouch Technologies, a New Mexico company that makes alcohol detection systems for the workplace. Both systems will then be installed in a single test vehicle. The project is funded up to that point, but more vehicles and field testing likely would be necessary before either system makes its way into vehicles on a dealer lot.
A 2009 survey by the IIHS showed the public is ready for this kind of in-vehicle alcohol detection technology. About two-thirds of respondents said they think it is a good idea, and more than 40 percent said they would want it in their own vehicles.