In August 2013, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Chief David Strickland wrote to the CEO’s of major automakers and urged them to continue supporting research and development of in-vehicle alcohol detection systems. In 2008, research funded by automakers and the federal government began an effort to develop in-vehicle technologies that would prevent intoxicated drivers from starting and driving a car. Although the Ignition Interlock Devices that are currently used accomplish this same goal, this new technology would differ significantly.
Ignition Interlock Devices effectively prevent an intoxicated person from starting a vehicle, but the devices are typically only installed in the cars of people who have already been convicted of DUI. In 2006, only 7 percent of DUI fatalities involved drivers with past convictions for alcohol-impaired driving. The research in progress seeks to develop an in-vehicle technology for all cars. According to the NHTSA, this technology could end most drunk driving.
To be feasible, this technology must be non-invasive. The original research proposal of 2008 stated, “The majority of the driving public in the United States either does not drink, or does not drink and drive. It is therefore necessary that advanced technologies to assess BACs must be seamless with the operation of the vehicle and not impede the sober driver.”
Potential technologies include Tissue Spectrometry Systems, which measure alcohol concentration with a beam of light at a wavelength sensitive to the presence and amount of alcohol in a person’s tissue. Distant Spectrometry Systems operate under the same principal but do not require skin contact. Research is also in progress for Electrochemical Systems, which use transdermal systems to measure the alcohol concentration present in a person’s sweat.
Congress has authorized over $5.3 million for this budget year for alcohol detection research. Car manufacturers are also supporting and helping to fund the effort. The NHTSA projects that with another five years of development, a car with a built-in, non-invasive alcohol detection system could be on the roads.