The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently unveiled new advanced alcohol detection technology that could prevent drunk drivers from operating a vehicle.
At a press conference in Washington this past week, NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind presented two prototypes of the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (aka DADSS), which has been in the works under a partnership with automakers since 2008. One model detects alcohol particles in the driver's breath. It is similar to ignition interlock devices currently used by 25 states for drunk driving offenders, but instead of requiring the driver to blow into a breathalyzer, DADSS takes noninvasive air samples.
The other DADSS model determines blood alcohol content by touch: it shines a light on the driver's finger and uses near-infrared tissue spectroscopy to ascertain how much the person has had to drink. If the driver's blood alcohol content is above 0.08, the car's engine won't start.
“The message today is not ‘Can we do this?’ but ‘How soon can we do this?’ ” said Mr. Rosekind. “It is a huge step forward.”
"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," Rosekind said at the unveiling. "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.”
The program was authorized by Congress in 2012, and in 2013 the NHTSA reached a deal with 15 major automakers to continue research. This deal extended the agreement with automakers for another five years.
Congress is considering legislation to extend federal funding for DADSS research.
NHTSA does not plan to make DADSS mandatory for all vehicles. Rather, it will be offered by automakers as an upgrade. Their goal is to complete the project within the next five years, although automakers say it could take up to eight years.
The DADSS unveiling was met with some opposition. The American Beverage Institute argues that because alcohol isn't immediately absorbed into the bloodstream and BAC could rise while driving, DADSS would have to set its limit below 0.08. They say that this could prove more of an inconvenience than a lifesaver.
"'Voluntary' passive alcohol sensors like DADSS will do nothing to keep these dangerous drivers off our roads. Instead, DADSS will simply stop many responsible social drinkers who have a glass of wine with dinner from starting their cars," ABI Managing Director Sarah Longwell told The Detroit News.
But the system has been met with support from groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
“For 35 years, MADD has worked to stop the horrible crime of drunk driving. This technology represents the future, when one day drunk driving will be relegated to the history books,” said MADD National President Colleen Sheehey-Church in an NHTSA press release. “While we still have a lot of work to do, we are closer than ever to eliminating drunk driving.”
“There’s not going to be a parent who isn’t going to want this in their child’s car,” Rosekind said. according to the Washington Post. “There’s not going to be a business that’s not going to want this in their vehicles.”
According to a 2013-2014 study, drivers at a breath alcohol level of 0.08 percent are about four times more likely to crash than sober drivers, and those with an alcohol level of 0.15 percent are 12 times more likely to crash.
In 2013, more than 10,000 people in the United States died in drunk driving crashes, and 290,000 were injured.