Coming Soon: "Start Button" Blood Alcohol Level Testers

In the U.S. alone, about 1,000 people die and thousands more are injured every month in accidents involving drunk drivers. To combat this problem, states have enacted stricter laws governing drinking and driving and have also implemented tougher penalties for violators. Today, law enforcement personnel can used advanced technology to test DUI suspects quickly and accurately.


They can even do this on the side of the road. It’s more accurate than those silly-looking field sobriety tests.

These blood alcohol content testers have also trickled down to the consumer market. The most common types of testers involve a person blowing into a tube and letting a machine analyze how much alcohol is in his or her system. People can actually purchase these devices online or at electronic stores. More commonly, municipalities incorporate these testers into ignition interlock devices which prevent a vehicle from starting until the driver tests negative for alcohol.


If you don’t blow, you can’t go.

But what would it be like if all drivers had to demonstrate sobriety before being able to drive their vehicles?

Two companies are working on technology to achieve that very goal. Tru Touch, a producer of touch-sensitive machines, and Takata, an auto equipment manufacturer, are teaming up in an effort to construct an easy-to-use alcohol recognition apparatus in vehicles. With the help of a $2.25 million grant from the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, the partners are trying to create an inexpensive Driver Alcohol Detection System that has the reliability of today’s alcohol-screening blood tests.

Here’s the idea: the device would be attached to the vehicle’s start button and could detect a driver’s alcohol content through his or her skin in just a fifth of a second.


Boom! You’ve been tested!

Even if the two companies are successful in developing the technology, it’s not clear exactly how it would be utilized. Will it be attached only to the vehicles of convicted drunk drivers (like today’s ignition interlock systems are)? Or would it be installed on every single new car or truck sold in the U.S.? Here’s another big question: would the device prohibit the starting of a vehicle’s engine if alcohol is detected? Or would it just be connected to a warning light on the dashboard?

Whatever decisions are made about the system’s use, it still won’t make DUI patrols and traffic stops obsolete. For one thing, the device isn’t intended to detect the presence of drugs in a person’s body. Plus, a driver could conceivably circumvent the system by either getting a sober passenger to start the car or by waiting to consume alcohol until after the vehicle has been started.

Officials with Tru Touch and Takata say it will be at least another eight years before their new device is ready to be put into vehicles. And if regulators or lawmakers order the system to be installed on all new vehicles, that timeframe could increase substantially. But this groundbreaking project could eventually represent a fundamental change in the way drunk drivers are identified and prosecuted.

And hey – if you had an alcohol detection system in your car, you’d probably get an auto insurance discount, right?

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