Honda helps develop a pocket-sized breathalyzer

March 30, 2016

Agencies at every level of government spend a lot of time talking about auto safety and launching new programs to lower accident and fatality rates. But for several years now, there's been little improvement in the area of drunk driving, which is still a factor in roughly one-third of all deadly accidents.

Given how common breath-analyzing devices have become, you might think that an agency like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would suggest requiring ignition interlocks on new vehicles--after all, NHTSA is requiring back-up cameras on new vehicles, even though back-up accidents account for fewer than 200 deaths each year. It seems as if something like alcohol, which plays a role in around 10,000 deaths per year, would warrant similar treatment.

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But no, not yet. For now, those who've not been convicted of driving under the influence are left to their own devices in determining when to say when. A new device developed by Honda and Hitachi could soon help, though.

The device is a portable alcohol detector, and the prototype is about the size of a flip-phone from 2005 or so--which is to say, pocket-sized. It's been designed so that owners can easily carry the device with them and receive accurate readings on their blood alcohol content. 

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The device won't be officially unveiled until next month during the SAE World Congress in Detroit. However, the companies claim that the as-yet unnamed gadget has at least three convenient features:

1. It's small, meaning that owners can take readings before they get behind the wheel. Honda and Hitachi say that the more time a drunk or buzzed driver has to evaluate her sobriety level before entering her vehicle, the more likelihood that she'll choose not to drive.

2. It's fast, rendering results in about three seconds.

3. It can be used as part of smart key technology, meaning that it can be used as part of a system that requires drivers to receive an appropriate reading from the device before they can start their vehicle.

Honda and Hitachi have said that they plan to sell this device (or other devices based on this technology) in the future. When that'll happen and how much something like this might cost remains to be seen, but given the lack of other options for bosses and parents worried about employees or family members, this might be a big seller.

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