Are In-car Alcohol Sensors Coming To A Car Near You?

Federal officials last week revealed a new technology they claim has the potential to completely eliminate drunk driving.

The technology they are using, interestingly, already exists: locks that prevent a vehicle from being started by someone who has a blood alcohol content above the legal limit, and which are commonly required in many states after certain DWI/DUI convictions.

What is different in this new proposal is the method by which this is being accomplished.

Here’s how it would work: passive breath sensors or touch-sensitive contact points on a starter button or gear shift would be installed that can immediately register the blood alcohol content of a driver. Unlike current ignition interlock devices, which require a driver to blow into a tube to provide a breath sample and start a car, drivers of vehicles with this new technology need not do anything for a BAC level to be detected.

Although cost estimates of the new technology have not yet been made, officials anticipate that once the sensors go into general production it will be comparable to the cost of seat belts or air bags; in other words, about $150-$200 per vehicle.

Other game-changing safety features, such as backup cameras (beginning in 2014), have been made mandatory for all new vehicles by the NHTSA. It is important to note, though, that this new alcohol detection technology would not be required for automakers selling vehicles in the United States. Instead, the technology would be offered as an upgrade to new vehicles.

“These devices have to be quick, accurate and easy to use for the automakers to put them on their platforms,” said Bud Zaouk, who runs the laboratory where the technology is being developed.

He and his developers are still working on refining the technology to ensure accuracy. Their goal is also to allow the technology to produce blood alcohol readings in less than a second, and to work for at least 10 years or 157,000 miles without calibration or maintenance.

The legal implications of drivers bypassing the voluntary installation of this technology are also yet to be explored by lawmakers, and so far it seems that this new technology has created more questions than answers.

Unlike an ignition interlock device, which is intended to only detect the blood alcohol content of the driver, the passive alcohol detection devices will be detecting alcohol located in the air of the vehicle whether it’s coming from the driver’s seat, passenger’s seat, or even the back seats.

Will the technology detect alcohol coming from something other than a drunk driver such as mouthwash, perfumes, or hand sanitizer? Will bartenders have to shower and change clothes before heading home after a shift? Will the technology work with open windows? What about convertibles or motorcycles?

The NHTSA has yet to address these questions.

Stay tuned.

Chris blogs about important and interesting legal news from his home in the Queen City of Charlotte NC.

Christopher Shelburn

Chris blogs about important and interesting legal news from his home in the Queen City of Charlotte NC.

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