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Over the limit: how cars could soon prevent drink-driving


Smart cars of the near future could refuse to start if the driver exceeds the drink-drive limit.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), working with a consortium of car makers including Ford, GM and Volkswagen has developed an alcohol detection system for vehicles that will prevent those over the limit from driving.

The NHTSA unveiled a prototype car fitted with its new Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) technology. The technology includes a steering wheel-mounted breathalyser and an engine start button that detects blood alcohol level via an infrared light.

Both will operate as passive systems, detecting alcohol level as the driver breathes normally, presses a button or holds the wheel. If the system detects the driver is over the limit it will refuse to start the car.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said: “Education, awareness and enforcement have succeeded in dramatically reducing drunk driving fatalities, but the advanced technology of DADSS brings enormous potential to save even more lives.”

The US is not pushing for the technology to be made compulsory, but the agency expects the technology to be an option for new cars in the next five years. The system will first be tested within prototype government vehicles.

Mark Rosekind, an NHTSA spokesman, said: “Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety has enormous potential to prevent drunk driving in specific populations such as teen drivers and commercial fleets, and making it an option available to vehicle owners would provide a powerful new tool in the battle against drunk driving deaths.”

Traffic collisions involving alcohol account for 10,000 deaths on US roads a year. However, the figures for the UK are much lower, with an estimated 230 people killed by drink driving incidents in 2012, according to the Department for Transport.

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Technology that could be built into the driving experience, such as an alcohol-detecting engine start button, could quickly become standard within commercial vehicles aided by safety and insurance incentives.

Bringing such technology to private vehicles is likely to take much longer, although car makers including Toyota have been working on their own systems for about a decade.

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