Anti-DUI Safeguards May Soon be Standard in Vehicles

Jul 26, 2019 11:37 AM EDT | Ernest Hamilton

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After a drunk driver slammed into a Kentucky family's vehicle, killing all five passengers, Congress is debating whether interlock devices should be mandatory for all vehicles. 

Members of the House Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee questioned whether the technology, which is meant to drunk drivers off of the road, should be more widely required.

Such a move would mandate these devices in all vehicles, and would keep them from starting without the driver either blowing into a tube or taking some other action to test sobriety. A law such as this will not likely be passed in the near future, but Congress and safety advocates have indicated that regulators should be moving towards this outcome.

With drunk driving fatalities reaching more than 10,000 per year, some legislators and safety advocates are pushing to make interlock devices mandatory to keep all drunk drivers off the road, and virtually eliminate DUIs

Currently, interlock devices are only required by state courts if a person has been arrested for drunk driving. Interlock devices connect to the car and require the driver to blow into the tube before the vehicle can start.

The Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety has been working on technology, called DADDS (Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety) that would allow for more passive testing. Rather than having to breathe directly into a tube, a device may be able to measure the blood-alcohol of drivers as they breathe normally behind the wheel. The computer would use this information to disable the vehicle's movement capability, although the vehicle can still be used for warmth and communication. The data would also not be recorded for posterity.

Another touch-based system would measure blood alcohol levels by shining an infrared light through the driver's fingertips. 

The technology is still in its infancy and is currently only being tested on less than half-a-dozen vehicles. There are hopes that the technology will be available for a larger fleet of vehicles in the near future, such as government agency vehicles. 

Of course, the technology raises a lot of concerning questions. Experts worry about how DADDS would interact with autonomous vehicles. Should a semiautonomous vehicle (which still requires the driver to take over in certain circumstances) refuse to transport a highly intoxicated driver?

Experts also question who is in charge of these driving decisions: the driver, regulators or the technology? Should there be an override ability in cases where an intoxicated driver may be trying to flee from danger? If so, would the device manufacturer be held liable if the override resulted in a driver causing an accident? 

Such systems can make the road safer, but they are raising more questions than they answer.

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