Why Can't Cars Tell When A Driver Is Drunk? NHTSA's Working On That

August 5, 2014

We have smartphone apps that can adjust thermostats from thousands of miles away. We have bracelets to track our movement and our vital statistics. So why don't we have devices in our cars to determine when motorists are too drunk to drive? 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has wondered the same thing. And according to Auto News, it's working on a solution.

ALSO SEE: No, You Can't Drive Better Than An Autonomous Car

Speaking at a conference in Michigan yesterday, NHTSA's Nat Beuse didn't go into details about what such a device might look like or how it would work. However, he described the ideal solution as something "seamless", which we take to mean "automated" -- something that works passively, gathering data from air in the car or from the driver's touch, without requiring motorists to stop and blow into a breathalyzer.  

We do know, however, that NHTSA has been working with two suppliers on systems like these: Autoliv and Takata, the latter of which earned a $2.2 million contract to develop a device to combat drunk driving. (Hopefully, it'll perform better than some of the company's airbags.)

Our guess would be that NHTSA will eventually require such devices on new cars, much as it plans to require backup cameras on new vehicles beginning in 2018. Given that drunk driving remains a major cause of roadway fatalities in the U.S. -- leading to roughly one-third of those deaths each year (PDF) -- it's unlikely that NHTSA would allow this kind of technology to remain optional, as it's done with automated braking and other safety systems. What'll that cost new-car shoppers? We'll keep you posted.


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