Preventative Drunk Driving Technology in the Works

A recent infrastructure package requires new cars to have technology that prevents drunk driving as soon as 2026. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that alcohol-related crashes make up nearly 30% of traffic fatalities, and automakers are working to reduce these numbers by creating technology that prevents intoxicated drivers from being on the roads.

This burst of new spending is aimed at improving auto safety in response to escalating road fatalities; $17 billion is allotted to road safety programs and new mandates that will dictate safety features in cars that we buy. The most impactful mandate – find a high-tech way to keep drunk people from driving cars.

Currently, some convicted drunk drivers must use breathalyzer devices attached to the ignition to start their car. If their blood-alcohol level is too high, it disables the vehicle. Automakers search for a more subtle way to determine blood-alcohol levels. Kea technologies is one of the companies working on this new technology. They are creating and testing the ‘Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety’ which are sensors that go inside your vehicle. There are 2 types of sensors: one that uses the breath of the driver; and another that can register blood alcohol levels in the skin. One approach Kea Technologies is taking is possibly putting the skin-sensitive sensor on the push-start ignition, but there is speculation as to how accurate the sensor may be.

The most likely system to prevent drunken driving is cameras that monitor driver behavior. Some of this technology is already being installed by automakers such as General Motors, BMW, and Nissan to track driver attentiveness while using partially automated driver-assist systems. Cameras would make sure a driver is watching the road, and look for signs of drowsiness, loss of consciousness, or impairment. The car will then warn the driver, and if the signs continue, the car will turn on its hazard lights, slow down, and pull over to the side of the road.

So far, there is no specified technology for how automakers will implement features to prevent drunk driving, but it must “passively monitor the performance of a driver of a motor vehicle to accurately identify whether that driver may be impaired.”

Alex Otte, President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) said “It’s monumental and could be the beginning of the end of drunk driving.”

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