In The Future Your Car Will Know If You're Drunk

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Yesterday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration held an event to showcase new alcohol-detection technologies that the NHTSA would like to see made commercially available for new cars. The most likely system to implement uses touch sensors to evaluate blood alcohol. So what happens if you’re wearing gloves?


Potential misuse of gloves to hide drunkenness wasn’t mentioned, but those gloves won’t let you hide from the breath sensor, which was also described, and which is designed to isolate only the driver’s breath, unless, somehow, someone else, you know, leans over the driver and breathes.

Here’s a video of how everything would work, in a very clean, white world where all the crash dummies with drinking problems live:

The technology itself is pretty fascinating, and is largely possible thanks to the intense interest in quick, non-invasive chemical detection technologies that came about post 9/11.

The systems have been in development since around 2008, and the NHTSA feels they’re close to being mature enough to commercialize. The video suggests that they envision these technologies could be sold as options for new cars, like lane-departure systems or adaptive cruise control.

While I’m sure these sorts of solutions will actually have the potential to save many lives, they still seem relatively easy to defeat by simply enlisting the fingers and breath of a non-drunk accomplice. It’s also way too easy to imagine getting stuck because you used an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or rinsed your mouth with alcohol-based mouthwash or spilled something on your hands or some similar sort of non-drunk related situation.

There’s also the discomfort with the loss of control of your own car, and, of course, the fact that a huge number of potentially drunk drivers won’t be in cars with these systems, even when they potentially become commonplace. In the end, it still comes down to not making a terrible decision.

(Thanks, Matt!)

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Damon Lavrinc

From Politico's morning transportation blast:

The American Beverage Institute is not taking kindly to the way DOT is explaining its new test on technology that prevents cars from moving if drivers are drunk beyond the legal limit. The trade group scoffed Thursday at the department's headquarters presentation on the technology, saying the claim that the systems will be a voluntary feature in new vehicles "directly contradicts" past statements by advocates. The group says it is likely the alcohol monitors would eventually be mandatory and would be set below the 0.08 blood alcohol content limit because "BAC level can easily rise while driving." ABI Managing Director Sarah Longwell said in a written statement that the technology "will simply stop many responsible social drinkers who have a glass of wine with dinner from starting their cars."