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NHTSA Steps Up Efforts to Block Drunk-Drivers from Starting a Car

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) wants to do more to prevent drunk drivers from causing accidents on the highway. With over 10,000 people killed every year, they are pushing for the development and implementation of “Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS),” safety technology that can help detect a driver’s blood alcohol concentration and prevent drivers from starting a vehicle if they are at or above the limit.

In a recent press release highlighting their “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign that ran over the holiday season, the NHTSA announced that together with the state of Virginia, they are providing an additional $5.1 million to help further develop and deploy DADSS.

“Drunk driving crashes are no accident,” said NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind, “they are 100 percent preventable….With the help of our safety partners we’re looking at a technological path forward to create a world where there is no more drunk driving.”

Government Researching New Drunk Driving Prevention Technology

It was back in 2008 that that U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) unveiled new technology that could eliminate drunk driving altogether. They assigned the acronym DADSS to the program that was researching the technology, which has been described as a more advanced version of the well-known breath-based systems.

The program brings together the NHTSA and the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS), which represents the world’s leading automakers. Research and testing are being overseen by a team of independent engineers and scientists.

The actual technology that the program is testing involves two types of systems:

  1. Breath-based system: This would be similar to the breathalyzer test, but would measure a driver’s natural exhale so he or she wouldn’t have to exhale forcefully into any sort of device. As the driver breathes normally, the device would draw the exhaled breath into a sensor, and then take instantaneous readings and prevent the car from starting if blood alcohol levels were determined to be at or above the limit.
  2. Touch-based system: This technology would actually measure the blood level of alcohol under the skin’s surface, in the small capillaries that run through the fingers. When the driver touches a button, it would shine infrared light through the fingertip, and take multiple readings in less than a second.

Researchers are still looking into things like where best to position the sensors in a vehicle, and how to allow the technology to distinguish between the driver and passengers. Right now, they’re considering putting the breath-based system on the driver’s side door and the steering column, or having multiple sensors throughout the cabin to help the system differentiate between the driver and passengers.

For the touch-based system, researchers are considering putting it on the vehicle start button, and may design it to work together with sensors in the front seat that determine if it is the driver being tested.

More Drunk Driving Deaths in 2016?

The next step is to integrate the prototypes into a small number of vehicles and conduct a series of field tests.

Meanwhile, CBS News recently reported that 2016 may go down as “one of the worst years for drunk-driving deaths.” An average of 28 people were killed each day in DUI accidents. Rosekind stated they are trying to figure out why the numbers are increasing, while the NHTSA steps up its efforts to do more.

Estimates are that the new DADSS technology could start showing up in vehicles by 2020.