Technology that can detect if a driver is over the legal blood-alcohol limit simply through smell and touch may soon be available in almost every new car on the market.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the US has developed a device called Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) in conjunction with a collection of carmakers including General Motors, the Volkswagen Group and Ford.
As a person sits in the driver’s seat, DADSS uses a steering wheel or door-mounted sensor to detect the amount of alcohol in their breath as they breath normally.
Using infrared light beams, the breath is analysed for the presence of alcohol and DADSS can determine if the driver is over the pre-set limit (in this case, 0.08 g/100ml in all US states).
The system can ‘read’ the driver’s breath, as alcohol molecules present differently to ‘normal’ breath when the infrared beam tries to pass through them.
If the driver is over the limit, the car refuses to start, and the limit can be adjusted if the driver is subject to a lower maximum blood-alcohol content (for example, young learner and provisional drivers).
A secondary system can operate through a vehicle’s push-button start (if fitted), which emits beams of light toward the driver’s finger to also measure the blood-alcohol content.
While portable breathalysers have been available for many years, in Australia only repeat drink driving offenders are currently subject to the fitment of mandatory alcohol interlock devices in their cars.
The NHTSA stresses that DADSS will be an optional feature at first, targeting fleet and government buyers.
However, the system is due to be trialled in government vehicles over the next few years, and a successful trial could result in compulsory fitment to new cars in the future.
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