Future technology may put the brakes on drunk drivers and save many lives as researchers in the United States are developing a system that will prevent a car from starting if the driver's blood alcohol level is higher than the legal limit.
The new technology, known as the Driver Alcohol Detection Systems for Safety, would use sensors that would measure blood alcohol content of the driver in two possible ways, by analysing a driver's breath or through the skin, using sophisticated touch-based sensors situated in places like steering wheels and door locks.
If the system detects the blood alcohol content in a person to be above the legal limit of .08, the vehicle would not start. The technology, being developed by research and development facility QinetiQ North America Inc in conjunction with companies in Sweden and New Mexico, would be optional for car manufacturers.
QinetiQ engineers said that unlike court-ordered breath-analyser ignition locks, which require a driver to blow into a tube and wait a few seconds for the result, their systems will analyse a driver's blood-alcohol content in less than one second.
The project was set up in 2008 with a grant of USD 10 million from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, an industry group representing many of the world's car makers. It ends in 2013. The first working prototypes of the systems were demonstrated at an event attended by US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration head David Strickland said the technology could help prevent as many as 9,000 alcohol-related fatalities a year in the US. He added that the technology was still in its early stages of testing and might not be available for commercial use for another 8-10 years.
The systems would not be employed unless they are seamless, unobtrusive and unfailingly accurate, Strickland said.