Drunk driving is an ongoing issue in many states throughout the U.S. Due to the slowed reflexes, impaired judgment and other effects that alcohol intoxication can cause, there are a significant number of motor vehicle accidents involving drunk drivers. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, 20 people are injured and one person is killed each hour in alcohol-related collisions.
In an effort to reduce the number of accidents related to alcohol impairment, a number of new technologies are being researched, developed and tested. The goal of these technologies is to prevent a person, who is intoxicated, from getting behind the wheel and driving by reliably and accurately measuring blood alcohol content, while not interfering with a driver that is sober. The types of technology being developed include:
Advanced breath tests
Researchers are working on methods to make the ignition interlock devices, which are becoming more widely used as a consequence and deterrent for convicted drunk drivers, easier to use. These devices require a driver to breathe into a device in order to start the vehicle. If the device measures the BAC at more than the legal limit, then the vehicle cannot be driven. Smaller devices, as well as those that could be incorporated into a vehicle’s remote key system, are currently in development.
Ocular measurement technology
Ocular measurement technology would record and analyze a driver’s eye movements. Nystagmus, a specific jerkiness of the eyes, can be caused by alcohol and some drugs. It, along with other eye movements, including tunnel vision, glancing away from the road and percent of eye closure, could be observed and documented through this technology using in-vehicle cameras. It would not prevent a motorist from driving drunk like some of the other options, however.
Liquid particles, including those from alcohol, each reflect a unique light. Tissue spectroscopy utilizes infrared light and sensors to measure the alcohol particle levels through the skin. The results from these types of tests are highly accurate and can be obtained in less than a minute. Researchers are working on technology that would allow these sensors to be built directly into a steering wheel so drivers could be continuously monitored with little to no distraction.
Blood alcohol content can be estimated through alcohol that is detected in a person’s sweat. A device known as SCRAM, or Secure Continuous Alcohol Monitor, has been developed and is already in use. It is a device which drivers wear around their ankle. The device sends information to a monitoring agency through a wireless modem link. Researchers are working on smaller devices that can be embedded into a steering wheel or worn on the wrist. This technology can be problematic, however, because it takes time for alcohol to become detectable in perspiration and the results tend to be less accurate than those of other technologies.