TURNING CARS INTO THE CURE FOR DRUNK DRIVING
While sobriety checkpoints and ignition interlocks currently represent two of the best available ap- proaches to drunk driving prevention, the time has come to use technology to turn cars into the cure for drunk driving. A 2006 technology summit hosted by MADD spurred the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS) to undertake the challenge of creat- ing a new passive, in-vehicle technology that can detect whether or not the driver is drunk and regis- ters a BAC of .08 or higher. ACTS stipulated that such a device must be inexpensive, unobtrusive and hassle-free for a sober driver. If successful, this new technology would prohibit an impaired driver from operating a car. In 2008, ACTS entered into a cooperative research agreement with the federal government to develop the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS). This five-year, $10-million agreement represents the beginning of the final chapter in the fight against drunk driving. DADSS research is currently being conducted in several laboratories, coordinated by QinetiQ North America, outside Boston. Harvard Medical School is conducting human subject testing. Two technolo- gies are being considered in Phase II of the project, which, once completed in 2013, will yield an in- vehicle technology that can accurately and quickly detect the driver’s BAC. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that this technology could save almost 9,000 lives per year.
The two technologies are considerably different. Takata-TruTouch Technologies has developed a system that requires the driver to touch a device embedded in a part of the vehicle, possibly the steer- ing wheel or dashboard. The technology then uses infrared spectrometry to “see” into the tissue of the driver and make an accurate reading of the driver’s BAC. The other technology, developed by Autoliv, uses infrared technology to measure BAC by analyzing the driver’s breath. While Phase II will result in a drivable test vehicle, much more needs to be done in order to make this technology ready for the vehicle showroom. In ad- dition, the public must be assured that DADSS will be seamless and unobtrusive for the sober driver. To provide resources needed to complete DADSS, Senators Tom Udall and Bob Corker and Repre- sentatives Shelley Moore Capito, Heath Shuler and John Sarbanes have introduced the ROADS SAFE Act, S. 510 and H.R. 2324. This legislation would authorize $60 million of new funds for Phase III of DADSS, assuring its path out of the lab and onto the streets. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Rockefeller and Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison have also included ROADS SAFE as part of the Surface Transportation Re-Authorization Bill. MADD calls on Congress to pass this legislation and to make ROADS SAFE law.
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