Government investing in touch-based in-vehicle alcohol detection devices

Consumer Reports News: September 26, 2011 05:08 PM

Even with steady declines the past 30 years, motorists driving under the influence of alcohol are still a serious issue on our roads. By last count, in 2009, nearly 11,000 people died in roadway crashes involving alcohol. Now the government is pushing even further to help eliminate drunk driving by investing money into a new vehicle alcohol detection system that can detect blood alcohol concentration instantly by just a touch of the ignition button.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), through the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) and the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS), has invested $2.25 million in a company called TruTouch Technologies. TruTouch claims it has developed the first touch-based alcohol detection device that could be installed in vehicles. The company uses an advanced intoxication detection technology that can measure a driver’s alcohol level with infrared light. A driver’s alcohol level is determined when a finger is placed on an infrared sensor. Results are determined in seconds. This device has a built-in biometric system to prevent tampering, meaning it can’t be cheated with another person’s finger.

Investing in this company and technology is a first step in moving along the ROADS SAFE act, (Research of Alcohol Detection Systems for Stopping Alcohol-related Fatalities Everywhere). The bill was introduced in the Senate last March and over the summer in the House. It would allow $12 million in funding for five years for NHTSA and DADSS to explore the feasibility, benefits, and challenges with using in-vehicle technology to prevent drunk driving.

Currently, a number of states use ignition interlock devices which are installed into vehicles of past DUI offenders. These devices act like a breathalyzer and require the driver to exhale into the system to check for blood alcohol concentration before the engine can be started. Most states only use them for repeat DUI offenders, but a few states have mandated them for first offenders. Some states only use them for offenders with high BACs (typically over 0.15).

A technology like the TruTouch system could help reduce drunk driving fatalities as it would be installed in every new vehicle manufactured--not just in those for repeat offenders. We’re told that it has the potential to be in vehicles within this decade.

Liza Barth

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