It’s no secret that alcohol monitoring systems are expected to join the list of standard vehicle equipment in just a few short years. With the National Transportation Safety Board applying pressure on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, it’s expected blood alcohol monitoring systems could be in new vehicles within the next three years. Well, today we’re here to tell you exactly how this system will work courtesy of The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) Program.
DADSS is a collaborative effort that sees the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS), representing the world’s leading automakers, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) working together to develop technology to detect drunk drivers. The group has been researching alcohol detection technology since 2008.
Remember, last year’s bipartisan infrastructure bill saw congress ask NHTSA to mandate alcohol monitoring systems including vehicle deactivation technology by 2026. The legislation didn’t outline a technical path to monitoring drivers, only that the system must “passively monitor” you. But the DADSS technology demonstrates one possibility as to how this mandated feature will work.
DADSS is currently pursuing two different paths to alcohol detection, one via touch, and one via breath sensing technology. It’s unclear at this point if the systems will work together or if it’s a winner take all showdown between the two technologies. How much the technology costs is also unclear.
The touch detection technology will use spectroscopy to measure alcohol in the driver’s tissue by detecting the blood alcohol concentration in the user’s capillaries. Measurement begins by shining an infrared light on the driver’s skin which moves into the tissue. A small portion of the light is then reflected back where it is collected by the touchpad. The reflected light is what conveys how much alcohol is concentrated in the bloodstream. This technology can be integrated into the surface of a vehicle’s start button and can take multiple readings in less than a second.
It’s unclear what happens if users are wearing gloves, or more importantly, who will be responsible for fixing the system if it begins to malfunction. Imagine not being able to drive to the job site at 5:30 on a Monday morning because DADSS can’t detect what kind of weekend you may or may not have had.
The second avenue is breath detection technology which will simply measure your exhaled breath as you sit in the driver’s seat. Unlike a breathalyzer which requires you to blow into a device, DADSS breath detection technology draws your exhaled breath into a steering column or dash mounted sensor that measures the concentration of alcohol and carbon dioxide. The known quantity of carbon dioxide is used as an indicator of the degree of dilution due to alcohol. After drawing in breath, the system directs infrared light to the sample and analyzes the wavelengths returned to calculate the alcohol concentration.
It’s not known if the breath detection technology would work as an ignition lock prior to operation, or if the system stays active while you’re driving and can catch individuals sipping road rockets. It’s also unclear if this type of system could be accidentally tripped by mouthwash or a hypoglycemic individual with elevated trace amounts of acetone in their breath.
Cigarette smoke has also been known to trigger false positives on breathalyzer tests. Smokers have high levels of acetaldehyde concentrated in their lungs. Acetaldehyde is the same component found metabolizing in the lungs when alcohol moves from the blood stream into the lungs. It’s a chemical that’s considered to be what gives people the worst effects of a hangover.
Unfortunately, this is all starting to sound an awful lot like your vehicle will consider you guilty of being drunk until DADSS touch or breath technology deems you innocent, which goes against the basic premise of the legal system. This leads us to other questions regarding the calibration of either touch or breath-based detection devices–breathalyzers are known to be highly sensitive to calibration errors. Will the responsibility of keeping government-mandated, in-vehicle alcohol detection technology up-to-date and calibrated correctly fall on drivers now? This would add additional expense and inconvenience to drivers who are already somewhat browbeaten by all the new technology systems being added to vehicles yearly.