The alcohol detection sensor could be the controversial next big safety feature to be required in every new car


The government is working on legislation that will require new vehicles to include breath or touch sensors that can detect when a driver is under the influence of alcohol. In a bid to make the roads safer, the technology would make the vehicle undriveable if a blood alcohol level above 0.08% was detected. Development is already underway.

According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 10,000 people died in crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver in 2019. This accounts for nearly 30% of all road deaths. To that end, it is working with a group of car manufacturers to develop the safety device described above.

The automaker group calls its partnership the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety program and is working on a number of possible solutions. Breath analyzers and touch sensors that use infrared light are on the table for future production vehicles. Each would be able to disable the vehicle if an illegal BAC (blood alcohol content) is the result of a test.

Related: Anti-drink-driving systems will be required in new cars in America

This would surely reduce the number of drunk driving incidents, accidents and arrests across the country, even though exploits are used by some. Later this year, Schneider, a truck safety technology company, plans to conduct trials for the current alcohol detection system in DADDS vehicles.

The specific language of the federal mandate issued by NHTSA, the new technology must “passively monitor the performance of a driver of a motor vehicle to accurately identify whether that driver may be intoxicated.” Touch sensors would certainly be less intrusive to many compared to a breathalyzer.

Still, some criticism has come from those who think it’s too intrusive. From an enthusiast’s perspective, it seems obvious that getting intoxicated people off the roads is only a good thing. Of course, no technology works 100% of the time. It is therefore certain that perfectly sober people would sometimes end up with a paperweight instead of a car.

The technology could be required in every new car from 2026 and is just one of many new technologies that NHTSA is considering for future mandates. Another is the smart speed assist which sounds much less palatable. Take a look at these proposals here.


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