Steering Wheels That Test Blood-Alcohol Are Coming

By Jonathan Zhou
Jonathan Zhou
Jonathan Zhou
Jonathan Zhou is a tech reporter who has written about drones, artificial intelligence, and space exploration.
June 9, 2015 Updated: June 10, 2015

According to the Department of Transportation, nearly 10,000 people are killed in drunk-driving accidents each year in America. Now, the DOT is working on a novel solution that could cut down that number by as much as 70 percent: breath analyzers embedded in steering wheels.

Last week, the DOT showcased prototypes of the attached breath analyzer and another blood-alcohol detector that functions by touch, in its progress report on recent developments in the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) program.

An analysis by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that if the blood-alcohol content of drivers could be limited to .08 percent or below, 7,000 traffic fatalities could be avoided each year.

“DADSS has enormous potential to prevent drunk driving in specific populations such as teen drivers and commercial fleets, and making it an option available to vehicle owners would provide a powerful new tool in the battle against drunk driving deaths,” Mark Rosekind, a transport administrator, said in a statement.

Federal agencies have collaborated on DADSS since 2008, and the program counts Mercedes, BMW, and Volkswagen among its private backers.

In 2011, DADSS awarded Takata, a Japanese maker of automobile parts, $2.25 million dollars to research a touch-based blood alcohol detector.

At the moment, the safety technology remains largely conceptual, and officials familiar with the matter stress that the project is still a work in progress.

“There is still a great deal of work to do, but support from Congress and industry has helped us achieve key research and development milestones,” Rosekind said.

Currently, 25 states require that first-time offenders of drunk-driving use an interlock devices that tests their breath for alcohol before they drive. The device being developed by DADSS is different, relying on the air in the car and not just direct exhalation.

In 2013, the vast majority of automobile fatalities—6,500 out of more than 10,000—were due to drunk drivers.

Jonathan Zhou is a tech reporter who has written about drones, artificial intelligence, and space exploration.