NHTSA Is Developing An Alcohol Detection System To End Drunk Driving: Would You Buy It? (Video)

June 5, 2015

Ignition interlocks are increasingly on the minds of folks who aim to end drunk driving.

In 2013, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration suggested that interlocks -- those devices that prevent a car from starting if they detect that a driver is blotto --  should be required for anyone arrested for drunk driving. Earlier this year, the University of Michigan Injury Center and the U-M Transportation Research Institute calculated the savings generated if interlocks were required on all cars. The answer? Roughly $23 billion and 4,000 lives per year.

Now comes word that NHTSA has taken that encouraging data and run with it. Working with a consortium of partners across the auto industry, the agency has revealed a very spiffy version of alcohol-detection technology that can identify booze in a driver's bloodstream in about a second. It's called the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, DADSS. (Please insert your own MADD joke here.)

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Yesterday NHTSA hosted a press conference in Washington, D.C. where it displayed two prototypes for this alcohol detection system. One senses alcohol particles in the driver's breath, much like a breathalyzer does. The other detects alcohol by touch, shining a light on the driver's finger and using near-infrared tissue spectroscopy (kind of like an x-ray, but it analyzes infrared light waves, not x-rays) to determine how much alcohol is in the driver's bloodstream.

NHTSA's aim is to complete the first consumer-ready version of this technology within the next five years. However, unlike backup cameras and other new-ish safety features, NHTSA doesn't plan to make DADSS technology mandatory on new vehicles. Instead, it would be offered as an upgrade -- though given the general trend of car companies making safety features like braking assistance and lane-departure warning standard over time, we'd be surprised if DADSS didn't follow a similar path.

As NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said at the unveiling, "There is still a great deal of work to do, but support from Congress and industry has helped us achieve key research and development milestones. 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."

Have a look at the video above to see a mock-up of DADSS in action. Is this the kind of thing you'd be interested in buying for yourself? How about for teenage drivers in your family? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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