The NHTSA has announced new technology that could make our roads safer by preventing drunk driving. The agency is developing a noninvasive system, called the Driver Alcohol Detection System for (DADSS), to detect blood alcohol levels using embedded sensors and beams of light. NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind unveiled a prototype at a Mothers Against Drunk Driving event. With the new system, blood alcohol levels can be measured in less than a second. When it is made commercially available as a safety option, it will have the capability of being programmed for the .08 legal blood alcohol limit, or even a zero limit for underage drivers.
The system could work in one of two ways. A breath-based option would pull a driver’s exhaled breath into a sensor located in the steering wheel. Then a beam of infrared light would measure the amount of alcohol in the driver’s body by comparing carbon dioxide and alcohol levels, since the molecules absorb different amounts of light. Alternately, touch sensors could be located in the ignition switch or on the gear shift. In this touch-based option, a beam of light would shine onto a finger and near infrared tissue spectroscopy would be used to analyze blood alcohol levels by measuring the light’s intensity.
DADSS is in an early prototype phase, and Rosekind hopes to run a trial in the next few years. It should be an easy sell to people who are most concerned with driver safety, such as commercial trucking companies and parents of teens. However, there is already some opposition from restaurant owners who argue that the system wouldn’t be accurate since alcohol isn’t immediately absorbed into the blood stream.