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Alcohol Detection Devices Being Developed for New Cars


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been pushing the auto industry to develop technology to disable the vehicles of drunk drivers, in order to reduce DUI related traffic fatalities. Automakers have resisted this for years, but appear to be relenting. A number of auto industry representatives, including representatives of General Motors, are now supporting the push for new technology in new vehicles to prevent drivers from driving over the legal limit.

NHTSA and a coalition of automakers are working on the so- called Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADDS). This system would use sensors in a vehicle to measure blood alcohol content by touch or breath to ensure a driver is under the legal limit of .08%.

Some have reservations about the technology, including the restaurant industry, denouncing the proposals as an encroaching of a nanny state. The increased cost of the technology is also of concern to some who worry that the technology could add hundreds of dollars to the cost of a new car.

Jack Nerad of Kelly Blue Book points out that the technology may not be perfect and may anger sober drivers who can't start their car. He points out that the sensors may pick up alcohol from passengers who have been drinking, even though the driver is sober.

The technology also raises the question of treating all motorists as potential drunk drivers, when the reality is that only a small portion of the population drink and drive. Treating everyone as a potential criminal and requiring them to blow into a breath alcohol device before driving raises civil liberty issues.

Field testing for DADDS will take place at the NHTSA lab in Boston over the next two years. Mandatory use of this technology in new cars may be years away, but some automakers may adopt the technology voluntarily in new models as soon as 2016.