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CNET On Cars: Smarter Driver: The future of in-car alcohol detection systems.
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CNET On Cars: Smarter Driver: The future of in-car alcohol detection systems.

3:41 /

Today an alcohol breath tester in your car is a huge stigma, but the feds are considering making them standard in all cars. Brian Cooley explains.

We're at San Francisco on a repair center where they are one of the few licensed installers and maintainers of the current state of the art of alcohol detection ignition interlocks. Okay, here's today's technology. Here is the Smart Start system installed in this vehicle and this is sort of a handset of a head unit with a display and a place where you blow in. It connects through this big coily cord to a logger box, a brain box basically, which is up onto the dash. Here's how it works. I turn the key on 'cause I wanna go drive somewhere. Of course, this system has to okay that and you just see it initializes for a moment, it says wait, now it says blow. Here I go. It's analyzing me now and I got a pass. Now, I can start the car, it gives you two minutes and counts down for you to do that. I had to blow and then when it gave me a tone signal, I had to make a humming sound while still blowing. Now, why is that? So that you haven't hooked up a balloon or a tank of air to this thing, you gotta do something that basically only a human can do. As I drive, it's gonna keep prompting me for random retest. There is a vision in the future of having alcohol detection in every vehicle from new. It's part of something called DADSS, the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, partly backed by the Federal Government. Now, for alcohol detection to be in every car and be acceptable to the car behind public, it has to be three criteria as I see it. First of all it's gotta be nearly imperceptible. Most of us would never do this everytime we drive, no matter what the safety benefits for society. Second of all, it's gonna work quickly. This is a bit of a timely process and third, it has to be full proof but also has to have a little leeway for real world living. One in Vision Technology is a touch pad on the steering wheel perhaps that shines Infrared light on the surface of your skin, reflecting from just deep enough to show blood alcohol concentration in your body. Another technology is breath-based like we've seen today but not with a device you blow into. Rather, the car would automatically sample the area around the driver in the car, testing for exhaled indicators of alcohol impairment. Now, those two technologies as amazing as they seem are actually being demonstrated right now in the labs. They are real. The bigger hurdles come in three other areas. First, preventing the passenger or another person from sitting in for a drunk driver to start the car, facial recognition tech could help there. Second, calibrating whatever technologies used to allow someone with let's say, a .07 to drive but not someone with a .08. That is giving tacit consent to drive after some degree of drinking, quite different from the sort of don't drink and drive mantra that we operate under today. And third, another issue will be the confluence of what DADSS technology learns and the automotive black boxes that are soon to be required in every car under Federal Regulation. Will the readings from the alcohol testing system be stored in the black box? And if so, for how long and who can see that? Our partners at State Farm are encouraged about what could be a potential breakthrough in drunk driving technology. It's something like DADSS, whatever technology is used. And they point to a frustrating number that makes it worth pursuing. Some 10,000 people every year dying in drunk driving accidents in the U.S That number has been coming down but not much below that level. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety thinks 7,000 of those deaths could be prevented by a technology like DADSS once it propagates in the market.

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