Development of new blood-alcohol technology is ‘inventing a world without drunk driving’ according to its creators.

The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) is researching technology that would disable vehicles when an intoxicated driver enters the vehicle. The new blood alcohol sensors are both breath-based and touch-based which may mean it is a lot more sophisticated than other proposed devices to help reduce the possibility of people drink-driving.

DADDS – Benefits

The touch-based sensors will measure the amount of alcohol within the driver’s blood by using near-infrared tissue spectroscopy, which can ‘probe bulk material’, such as a drivers hand for example, ‘with little or no sample preparation.’ This essentially means that a driver’s blood-alcohol level can be read by the sensors without the need for extracting blood.

The new technology is so advanced that it not only detects when driving-age adults enter a vehicle with a blood-alcohol level which exceeds the national limit, it also will cause a vehicle to completely shut down if a 21 year-old driver enters with even a drop of alcohol in their system.

For the time being the system is detecting parameters for driving within the US (although these can vary from state to state), with research ongoing since 2008 and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has since published the results of each research phase.

DADDS – Development Phases

In Phase I, the NHTSA reported that they performed “research and analysis of two different technological approaches to measuring driver alcohol levels – a touch-based approach allowing assessment of alcohol in human tissue and a breath-based approach allowing assessment of alcohol concentration in the driver’s exhaled breath focused on speed accuracy and precision.” This phase was completed in 2011.

In Phase II they reported that they performed “additional research and testing of touch-based sensors to improve accuracy and precision performance, and decrease measurement time to meet or exceed DADSS performance specifications.” After this testing, prototypes of the touch and breath based alcohol sensors will be placed into a test vehicle and is expected to be completed in 2016.

The last phase will involve further research to make refinements to the technology, ensuring that the sensors have the ability to understand human interactions

Video Shows How DADDS Shuts Down Car with Intoxicated Driver


DADDS – Requires More Testing

Even with the apparent success of the research so far it has been reported that the NHTSA has released a ‘disclaimer’ alongside the information, suggesting that the technology is still in its infancy, even after seven years of testing. However, disclaimer may not be the correct word, as it is more a statement of the devices potential but also its limitations with its current form.

The statement explained: “While the technology is estimated to have the potential to save thousands of lives per year, the research is still in the early phases of development. In order to be considered for widespread deployment, the DADSS technology must be seamless, accurate, precise and unobtrusive to the sober driver. It must also be proven reliable to be installed in the vehicle fleet and publically favourable.”

Mark Rosekind, NHTSA Administrator said: “There is still a great deal of work to do, but support from congress and industry has helped us achieve key research and development milestones.

“DADSS has enormous potential to prevent drunk driving in specific populations such as teen drivers and commercial fleets, and making it an option available to vehicle owners would provide a powerful new tool in the battle against drunk driving deaths.”

DADDS – Limitations

Although there are certainly some useful implications for the devices current suggested potential, its proposed ‘voluntary’ nature among the general driving public may be unlikely to stop the worst cases of drink-driving culprits outside of the commercial sector.

An American Beverage Institute spokeswoman, Sarah Longwell told the Detroit News that the DADSS will do nothing to keep these dangerous drivers off the roads adding: “instead, DADSS will simply stop many responsible social drinkers who have a glass of wine with dinner from starting their cars.”

It is hard to deny that in its current form and proposed uses it has plenty of limitations, which will likely be addressed during the next phase of the testing. But maybe this is a case of over engineering a solution to drink driving on too small of a scale, when there are other technological advances that could be more effective and widespread.

The mention of such technology already conjures up imagery of cars similar to those of fictional utopian societies depicted in movies such as demolition man and I-robot. So perhaps such focuses in funding and research could be better utilised in contribution to the development of driverless cars, which would eliminate the possibility of drink driving altogether.