In December, I wrote a post on Nissan’s new smart car which features DUI prevention technology for vehicles. Well, it’s not just the car manufacturers who are looking into the feasibility of this technology. The Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are collaborating to research and develop similar technology. The project is called Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS).
The technologies being researched include a touch-based approach and a breath-based approach.
Under the touch-based approach, the driver would have to touch a sensor in order to start the vehicle. From the sensor, an infrared light is shown onto the skin. A portion of the infrared light spreads and penetrates several millimeters below the surface of the skin. The light collects data from the tissue below the skin and returns to the surface where the data is analyzed by an optical touchpad. The touchpad then determines the alcohol concentration in the tissue. The technology will also be able to detect whether someone leaning over from the passenger seat to touch the sensor as a means to bypass it.
The breath-based approach, unlike current ignition interlock devices (IID), uses a contact-free measurement of the driver’s breath. Sensors placed in the driver’s area of the vehicle measure the driver’s breath and use concentrations of carbon dioxide as a measurement of dilution.
Questions still remain as to whether the technology will prevent sober drivers from operating their vehicles. Is it possible for the sensors to mistakenly detect the breath of drunk passengers? Is it possible for the breath sensors to detect alcohol not caused by drinking alcoholic beverages like mouthwash? Is it possible for the touch sensor to detect alcohol in the skin not caused by drinking alcoholic beverages like rubbing alcohol?
Another issue that has arisen with the technology is whether it should be mandated in all vehicles. The intention is good; if drunk drivers cannot start their vehicles, they cannot drive drunk and kill someone. But might it be considered government overreaching to require the technology on people who do not want it? Iowa news outlet The Gazette eloquently addressed this issue and I tend to agree.
“It’s true the government requires all sorts of safety feature on vehicles, including seat belts and air bags. But this would seem to go further than making cars and trucks safer for drivers to operate, or improving survivability in an accident,” said The Gazette Editorial Board. “It’s one thing to punish drivers who have broken the law. It’s another to mandate costly technology in an attempt to modify the behavior of those who have not.”
If all goes as planned, DADSS hopes to have a research vehicle available by the end of 2013. It is reported that implementation of the technology might take effect within eight to ten years.