Seatbelts, anti-lock breaks, airbags, and now a new piece of technology that is sure to save potentially thousand of lives every year: Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS). The DADSS system measures a driver’s blood alcohol concentration before the vehicle starts, and if the concentration is .08% or greater, the vehicle’s ignition system is disabled.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the “program is a collaborative research partnership between the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS), representing 17 automobile manufacturers, and the NHTSA.” Currently 24 states require the installation of Ignition Interlocking Devices (IID) for first time DWI offenders. The ACTS partnership has an eye to take DWI prevention a step farther. “We have our sites set on inventing a world without drunk driving,” said ACTS’s CEO Rob Strassburger to USA Today.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has applauded the ground breaking technology. Anticipating the device will be available in cars in 2016, MADD’s President Colleen Sheehey-Church said, “This car is going to be the cure.”
The system works in two ways. First, a breath sample component analyses ethanol and carbon dioxide molecules using infra-red sensors for your level of blood alcohol concentration. The threshold between the molecules will determine whether the car will start. Fortunately, it will be less cumbersome and more reliable than the current IIDs which are routinely criticized for not working correctly.
The second component is fascinating. A touch-based system measures alcohol levels in skin tissue using infra-red light. The system could be part of a steering wheel or an ignition button, and could possibly have a finger print reader as a safe guard to ensure the actual intended driver doesn’t have someone else “start” the vehicle as an end run around the system.
The system has run up against some criticism from the American Beverage Institute, a powerful lobbying force. These associations have floated the idea that the system is unreliable, and could malfunction, leaving a driver stranded, unable to start their vehicle, despite being sober.
Bud Zaouk, Director of the DADSS research effort major goal is making the device user-friendly. “We’re focused on accuracy, precision and the speed of measurement.” He also told USA Today that he wants the test to happen “in the blink of an eye so that it doesn’t inconvenience the driver.”
Clearly the system, if effective and accepted by consumers as a possible safety option, could mean the difference between life and death in some cases. The prospect of putting a dent in the approximately 10,000 annual drunk driving related deaths each year should be enough to overcome strong lobbying efforts from companies that are more interested in selling alcohol.
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