Car safety experts want to make cars themselves a weapon in the fight against drunk driving. The system they propose – the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) – would check a driver's blood alcohol content (BAC) before allowing the car to start.
Researchers working with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will use unobtrusive sensors, likely embedded in a starter button or shift lever, to check a driver's blood-alcohol content. If the driver's BAC is over the limit, the DADSS would prevent them from starting their car.
Currently, 16 states require alcohol interlocks to be installed in cars primarily as a punitive measure. Convicted drunk drivers must blow in a tube to verify that they are sober before they can drive. The new detection devices would either check alcohol levels through the breath using remote sensors or by taking a reading from the skin, most likely on a fingertip.
The American Beverage Institute argues that DADSS would create a zero tolerance atmosphere. The organization says the technology would have to be calibrated lower than .08 BAC to cover shifting levels as alcohol enters the blood stream.
NHTSA officials have stated they won't mandate the inclusion of detection systems in all cars. This could be to avoid the public outcry the agency generated in the 70s when it required the installation of technology that stopped cars from starting if seatbelts weren't fastened. Still, NHTSA is pushing for funding, requesting $24 million over two years. This would make it possible to equip 100 or more cars with prototypes by 2013.