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Vehicle tech could put an end to driving under the influence

Legislatures and law enforcement have done much to crack down on drinking and driving. This includes increasingly severe penalties and lower thresholds for the legal blood alcohol content limit of .08. Nonetheless, driving under the influence remains a stubborn problem for law enforcement throughout the United States and accounts for 1 million arrests annually.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently found that 30% of all fatalities on the road involve drinking and driving. In recent years, it averages to more than 10,000 fatalities annually, but the increased number of deaths overall could raise that number.

Congress looks for modern solutions

Rather than harsher penalties and more stringent laws, Congress now turns to technology. The new federal infrastructure bill includes $17 billion for road safety initiatives. Along with new road designs, better safety structures, and more streetlights, there is also money to develop the use of technology in vehicles to monitor if the driver is too impaired to drive. According to a new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety IIHS), alcohol-detection technology could potentially save upwards of 9,000 lives annually.

While there is currently technology surrounding ignition interlock systems used by some convicted of DUI, newer systems are less intrusive while still being fast and accurate. Some are exploring the use of the same technology used to detect distracted or drowsy driving – the same camera tech would determine if the driver was too intoxicated to drive.

There is also new technology on the horizon. The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) includes sensors that automatically collect breath samples and test for traces of alcohol consumption, all without the driver needing to blow into a tube. There are still bugs to work out, including telling the difference between a sober driver and intoxicated passengers.

Another technology involves a light scanning the driver’s fingertip to determine their blood alcohol level. Whatever the system, theoretically, the vehicle could first warn the driver, and then the self-driving software could take control and pull the vehicle to the side of the road.

We are not there yet

The federal government could draft bills that make alcohol detection systems a mandatory safety feature, much like seatbelts. Implementation could begin as soon as 2025 or so. While this is good news for road safety, the future is still distant, and implementation will take time. Crash victims and their families will still need to hold reckless and intoxicated drivers accountable for their negligence by filing a personal injury lawsuit.