While we like to think that by now, the foolishness of drinking and driving has become common knowledge. Sadly, whether through lack of will on the parts of drivers themselves or through gaps in the efforts to educate the public on the risks involved, alcohol related traffic accidents are still commonplace. In fact, by 2006 the total percentage of fatalities that were alcohol related came out to a whopping 41%.
As technology evolves and detection of impairment becomes easier to accomplish, newer, less intrusive methods are becoming available to vehicle manufacturers to detect when somebody is drunk before they even turn on the ignition. The following are some examples of this technology:
Classic Breathalyzer Test
This is the technology that is being employed in many jurisdictions today. These ignition locks are placed in the vehicles of those found guilty of DUI in many states, and simply require the driver to blow into a tube in order to ensure that the individual is sober before the engine will even start. Without a breath test, or with a breath test that shows a BAC in excess of .08, the vehicle will not start. The problem with this technology is that it is considered intrusive and thus only works on those already convicted of drunk-driving offenses. Attempting to install this over 20-year old technology in every vehicle is something the public would not stand for since most drive sober, new technology however seeks to change that.
Ambient Breath Test
Similar in concept to a breathalyzer, the idea of more advanced breath testing is that rather than blowing into a tube, a driver's natural breathing cycle will be enough to determine alcohol levels. Through a combination of sensors, both to measure carbon dioxide concentrations in a driver's breath as well as being able to determine where the breathing is coming from (so a drunk passenger is not mistaken for the driver), one could theoretically determine the blood-alcohol levels of the driver and whether or not he is supposed to be behind the wheel. The primary advantage to this system over the classic breath testing is that it can be seamlessly integrated into a vehicle without the driver even realizing the test is being conducted. Furthermore, if the driver attempts to fool the system, it can easily keep testing while on the road and set off an alarm to warn law enforcement officials.
Another possible method for alcohol screening in the future is a touch-based system to scan blood-alcohol levels in the skin. The way this system works is by touching a sensor with one's bare hand. On contact an infrared light is shone in the skin, which can penetrate a few millimeters deep, the light reflection giving the sensor a way to determine the chemical balance in the skin tissues themselves. This touch based method could easily be integrated into modern touch-to-start systems as well, making it a seamless and easy to integrate part of a vehicle's ignition systems.
As technology progresses, the roads of the future are promising to be safer than ever before. When alcohol tests become a universal requirement to start one's vehicle, but are so seamless that you don't even realize that the car is doing it, preventing hundreds of deaths every year without making one feel like a criminal simply for wanting to go out for a drive.
Josh McCarthy is from Orlando, Florida. He is a finance major at the University of Central Florida and enjoys trading stock options. He enjoys all athletics and is trying to make money for an engagement ring. Josh is also a professional writer for Heil-Law.com, a personal injury law firm based in Orlando.