Tucked into the Senate’s transportation bill is a provision that directs the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to study “more widespread deployment of in-vehicle technology” that would prevent drunken driving.
The research will be carried out by the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, a collaboration between NHTSA and the automobile industry.
The idea is to develop some kind of nonintrusive technology based around touch or breathing that would be able to sense when a driver is drunk and disable the car. Technology on the market now — called “ignition interlocks” — require a driver to blow into a Breathalyzer device attached to the car’s dashboard and then wait 30 seconds until the sample is analyzed. Only then will the car start.
The research is trying to develop a “far less intrusive” technology more acceptable to the general public, which consumers eventually would be able to choose as an option on a new car — similar to picking leather seats or a sunroof.
Sarah Longwell, managing director of the American Beverage Institute, a group that represents alcohol distributors and restaurants that serve alcohol, said the provision is the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent that could lead to mandating these devices on all new cars.
“They’re developing it for all cars as original equipment. The bill doesn’t mandate anything, but ultimately that’s what they want,” Longwell said.