WASHINGTON — Car shoppers in the future may be able to purchase a non-invasive Driver Alcohol Detection System designed to put an end to drunk driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Federal safety regulators on Thursday unveiled a prototype vehicle that uses two different approaches to measuring blood-alcohol content. One is touch-based and the other is breath-based.
The technology will be tested in a pilot field trial and may be available in five to eight years. Safety regulators want to know how drivers will interact with the system.
The system "has enormous potential to prevent drunk driving in specific populations such as teen drivers and commercial fleets," said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind in a statement. "Making it an option available to vehicle owners would provide a powerful new tool in the battle against drunk driving deaths."
No word yet on what such a system would add to the cost of a vehicle, although federal safety regulators say it will be affordable.
NHTSA said the system will be made available as a safety option in new vehicles, "much like automatic braking, lane departure warnings and other advanced vehicle technologies."
The breath-based system instantly measures alcohol in the driver's exhaled breath as the driver breathes normally.
The touch-based system measures blood alcohol levels under the skin's surface by shining an infrared light through the fingertip. It is located in the push-button start in the prototype vehicle.
The system will detect when a driver is intoxicated with a blood alcohol concentration at or above 0.08, the legal limit in all 50 states, and prevent a car from moving. Customized features would include a setting that would prevent a teen driver from starting a vehicle with any alcohol in their system.
Alcohol-impaired driving crashes kill nearly 10,000 people annually.
Edmunds says: Parents are likely to shell out for such technology, but it's clear that the system must be completely reliable and not bar a sober driver from starting a vehicle before it's commercially available.