Feds Push for Passive Alcohol-Detection Technology in Cars


  • NHTSA Public Service Campaign Picture

    NHTSA Public Service Campaign Picture

    The National Transportation Safety Board wants to go far beyond public-service campaigns like this one in a renewed push to put the brakes on drunk drivers. | December 19, 2012

Just the Facts:
  • The National Transportation Safety Board is calling for the development of passive alcohol-detection technology in cars and trucks to achieve "zero alcohol-impaired driving-related deaths."
  • The NTSB said it envisions technology that would detect alcohol in the driver's system through breath- and touch-based sensors.
  • "Technology is the game-changer in reducing alcohol-related crashes on our nation's roadways," said Deborah A.P. Hersman, NTSB chairman, in a statement posted on the NTSB Web site.

WASHINGTON — The National Transportation Safety Board is calling for the development of passive alcohol-detection technology in cars and trucks to achieve "zero alcohol-impaired driving-related deaths."

The NTSB said it envisions technology that would detect alcohol in the driver's system through breath- and touch-based sensors.

"Technology is the game-changer in reducing alcohol-related crashes on our nation's roadways," said Deborah A.P. Hersman, NTSB chairman, in a statement posted on the NTSB Web site. "Achieving zero alcohol-impaired driving-related deaths is possible only if society is willing to separate the impaired driver from the driving task."

Critics worry that such systems have not yet been perfected and that they may not distinguish the driver's breath from that of a passenger, among other concerns.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released new statistics on December 13 noting that in 2011, 9,878 people were killed in drunk-driving crashes in the U.S.

The NTSB also said it recommends that all first-offender alcohol-impaired drivers be required to have ignition interlock devices installed on their personal vehicles.

"The first step to address the number one killer on our roadways is to do what is proven to be effective — use interlocks for all DWI offenders," Hersman said.

Such devices prevent the engine from starting until a breath sample has been provided, analyzed for alcohol content and determined to be below prescribed limits. Currently, only 17 states require interlocks for first-time offenders.

The NTSB published the recommendations as part of a report on accidents caused by wrong-way driving. The NTSB cited alcohol-impaired driving as the leading cause of wrong-way crashes.

GPS devices could also provide a warning to alert drivers of wrong-way movements, the NTSB noted.

The NTSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating accidents in the U.S.

Edmunds says: Pushing for the development of in-car technology that automatically determines the blood-alcohol level of the driver is bound to be a controversial idea.

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