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Convincing consumers to embrace a device which could raise prices and have false positives is challenging

Alcohol, humanity's favorite social lubricant, is an ever controversial research topic with some calling it the deadliest drug, and others pointing to studies that suggest moderate alcohol consumption enhances learning (perhaps the real-life version of the "Ballmer curve").  But one thing that most can agree on is that intoxication and cars are a dangerous mixture.

I. NHTSA: Five Years to Commercializing Driver Intoxication Detection

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) -- an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) -- has been working a coalition of manufacturers (the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS)) to produce an advanced in-car sensor that would refuse to start the vehicle if it detects the driver is intoxicated.  

The system they're developing is dubbed "Driver Alcohol Detection System for safety" (DADSS) -- perhaps a well intentioned play on the nation's largest anti-drunk driving activist organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

Drunk driver
The government and activist groups want to make sure a drunk driver can never get in a car and drive in the first place. [Image Source: CNN]

After nearly $40 USD in federal funding ($5.8M USD in 2008, $2M USD/yr. in 2009-2010, and ~$10M USD in 2011-2013) and five years of progress, that project is approaching the end of its first phase, and a technology demonstration has been promised.

In a letter to the CEO of top automotive manufacturers, NHTSA Chief David Strickland said that significant progress had been made on the private-public collaboration.  With two "very, very effective" prototypes from separate OEM partners produced, he believes a commercial product is within reach.  On how soon we will see such a device, he comments, "We probably have another five years of work to go.  It will be available as an option by manufacturers, and I think it’s a real way forward."

II. Motivations

Why build such a device?  The motivation is actually surprisingly straightforward.

Government statistics from 2010 reveal that drunk driving is the number one crime in the country, with 1.4 million driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) arrests a year.  Of fatal car crashes approximately half of the drivers involved were under the influence of alcohol or other psychoactive substances.  

To try to curb drunk driving, the government by 2009 had instituted nearly 150,000 in-car interlock systems [source] to habitual DUI offenders.  An interlock system won't allow a vehicle to start without having the user perform a breathalyzer test.

Drunk Driving
Drunk driving remains the nation's most common crime and a key factor in roughly half of car crashes. [Image Source: DWI Blog]

While functional, interlock systems are far from perfect.  First, if a non-drunk passenger (or even companion riding separately) blows into them, they can start the car, even if the driver is drunk.  Second, they are too expensive and invasive to deploy to all vehicles. 

One solution would be to have a more general alcohol detector that scanned the entire air content of the car, but again this would be problematic as drunk passengers could trigger a false positive.  And such a solution would be more expensive, likely, as it would require the detection of smaller quantities of airborne alcohol versus a system that isolates a driver's breath (e.g. the interlock).

From a big picture perspective, the number of people in the U.S. still choosing to drive drunk and being able to do so clearly illustrates that the deterrents to date -- DUI fines, prison time, and in-car prevention systems -- aren't stopping drunk drivers often enough.

II. Show Me The Prototype

The NHTSA/industry program launched in 2008, with $5.8M USD in federal funding.  It has focused on two different emerging technologies -- near-infrared (NIR) tissue spectroscopy and distant breath spectroscopy.  The former technique would require the driver to press their finger against a location.  Eventually this could perhaps be embedded into the steering wheel.  The latter method would be remote, requiring no direct contact as it measures the amount of alcohol in the exhaled breath from a distance.  Differentiating between driver and passenger intoxication, though, requires strategic sensor placement, multiple sensors, and filtering algorithms.

After five years Congress is still funding the program, but desires some sort of results.  Mr. Strickland has promised a working prototype will be demonstrated by the end of the year.  He comments, "A tangible result of that work will be demonstrated later this year, when a research vehicle including both touch-based and breath-based detection technologies is available for further evaluation.  I have referred to it as a ‘moonshot’ for traffic safety with initially long odds but the potential for dramatically powerful results if we are successful."

Drunk driving TruTouchWorking prototypes are expensive, bulky, intrusive, and can yield false positives.  (The DADSS "TruTouch" tisue NIR spectroscopy system is shown.)

If the NHTSA and ACTS can pull of a successful demo, they next have to plan out and agree to a path for Phase II -- the path to commercialization.  MADD National President Jan Withers praised the progress thus far, stating, "Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, DADSS for short, is our hope for the future to ELIMINATE drunk driving."

That said, figuring out a route to commercialization requires many parties -- automakers, insurers, consumers, civil liberties groups, activist groups (e.g. MADD), and the government -- to all agree to a route they can all live with.  Balancing often competing interests (e.g. the desire to reduce auto fatalities versus the consumer demand to not have a device that produces false positives or raises vehicle prices) makes this project a "moonshot" indeed.  But it'll be interesting to watch what the coalition brings to the table as Phase I concludes.

Sources: The Detroit News, DADSS [homepage], [white paper]



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RE: The big brother/nanny state
By Reclaimer77 on 8/21/2013 5:54:23 PM , Rating: 4
Really! I mean is this the point where even the most apathetic person might think "okay that's going too far."? I really hope so.

To make something like this mandatory standard equipment in all vehicles...it's just so overboard it hurts my brain. I would totally be okay with forcing this on people with a record of DUI's, they've broken the law. But in EVERY CAR!!??


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By ritualm on 8/21/2013 6:00:08 PM , Rating: 4
It feels like the movie Idiocracy, except we're all paying to see it unfold in real time.


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By sixteenornumber on 8/22/13, Rating: 0
RE: The big brother/nanny state
By wookie1 on 8/22/2013 12:16:05 PM , Rating: 4
You may recall there was a constitutional amendment to restrict alcohol, followed by another amendment to repeal that after it was completely ineffective. Since you don't see a problem, please install a breathalyzer in your car so you can't start it without blowing in it first. Then report back on how you feel about it.


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By gamerk2 on 8/22/13, Rating: 0
RE: The big brother/nanny state
By ritualm on 8/22/2013 2:37:48 PM , Rating: 4
A few hundred million per year of economic activity lost is peanuts when you consider that the current federal education budget is over $100- Billion , most of it wasted and corrupted in poor-performing schools. Yet we have lots of people chime in and claim the USG isn't spending enough money at it.

You want to fix DUI once and for all? Then get rid of humans in the entire process of driving vehicles! These BACs won't do anything but make some politicians and their donor companies very rich. I'm calling it now.


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By ritualm on 8/22/2013 12:22:30 PM , Rating: 2
Because we tried it during the Roaring Twenties and it didn't work.


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By jimbojimbo on 8/22/2013 3:50:58 PM , Rating: 3
So you got hit by a drunk driver so EVERYBODY has to pay? Why not just have a law so if you get a DUI you lose your driving privileges FOREVER and they confiscate your car. Be caught again they confiscate the car and throw the person into a chain gang.


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By Cheesew1z69 on 8/22/13, Rating: 0
RE: The big brother/nanny state
By tayb on 8/21/2013 6:34:55 PM , Rating: 1
quote:
It will be available as an option by manufacturers, and I think it’s a real way forward.


Do you know how to read?


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By Reclaimer77 on 8/21/2013 6:46:37 PM , Rating: 5
Use your freaking brain! If the NHTSA is involved, you can forget that "optional" bit as soon as there's reliable working devices, they'll mandate them to all vehicles. Like EVERY OTHER thing up to and including black boxes and tire pressure sensors.


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By toffty on 8/21/13, Rating: -1
RE: The big brother/nanny state
By tayb on 8/21/2013 6:57:11 PM , Rating: 3
Do you know how the NHTSA works?


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By retrospooty on 8/21/2013 8:42:08 PM , Rating: 4
Let me put up a guess. Some Ass clown senator funds a study that "manages to show" (via skewed data) that cars with this have 10% less fatalities than cars without and then it becomes a new mandate that all new cars must have this.

Yes, that is exactly how things go down.


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By Monkey's Uncle on 8/21/2013 9:32:13 PM , Rating: 2
Yep. That pretty much sums it up.

Problem is that this is invasive to the point where it will not allow your car to start unless you are deemed worthy.

Does nobody else see the massive point of failure here? I sure do.


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By Adonlude on 8/22/2013 3:10:24 PM , Rating: 2
I would think that mass government mandated analysis of the contents of ones body without court order or due process would clearly be a violation of the 4th amendment.

I believe the supreme court would have to make another unconstitutional decission, like they did when they allowed DUI checkpoints, for this system to be implemented.


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By Reclaimer77 on 8/21/2013 9:32:32 PM , Rating: 5
You left out the part where the makers of this device lobby the ass clown senator to fund the study to pass the bill to get their big ass Government contract paid for by you and I.

All in the name of "public safety", of course.


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By retrospooty on 8/21/2013 11:13:51 PM , Rating: 2
I thought that went without saying. But yes you are correct. LOL


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By superflex on 8/22/2013 12:57:34 PM , Rating: 2
for the kids


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By FITCamaro on 8/21/2013 11:21:00 PM , Rating: 4
You mean like tire pressure sensors were an option? And airbags? And seatbelts?


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By jimbojimbo on 8/22/2013 3:52:22 PM , Rating: 2
Rear cameras is another that's already been approved and is right around the corner.


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By shmmy on 8/21/13, Rating: -1
RE: The big brother/nanny state
By ClownPuncher on 8/21/2013 7:19:40 PM , Rating: 5
Why not just educate people about the dangers of alcohol instead of punishing everyone? That you, admittedly, drink and sometimes drive is not my burden to bear.

What's so difficult about the idea of personal accountability? I don't ever drink and drive, why bother people like me with this mess? The whole idea of the burden of society was invented to subvert individual rights in a republic.


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By Jeffk464 on 8/21/2013 7:56:28 PM , Rating: 1
Nope, but you can get hit by somebody that does.


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By Monkey's Uncle on 8/21/2013 9:47:12 PM , Rating: 4
You can get hit by somebody that falls asleep at the wheel, gets too involved in sexting on their phone or is a habitual Ambien user (anti-insomnia drug that can cause sleep driving) too.

Alcohol may be the #1 cause of lethal crashes that can be proven but other forms of impaired driving are just as, or even more dangerous to everyone caught up in it. And it is a LOT more common! Ask the truck driver that has been driving his rig for the past 24 hours without sleep that jackknifes his rig and takes out every car within 50 feet of him. He's not drunk, but he is just as impaired as a drunk. Ask the guy sexting with his girlfriend while barreling down the passing lane of the freeway at 80mph.

Cars are big, dangerous machines. When they get out of control, for whatever reason, they are worse than a loaded gun to anyone around them.


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By Mint on 8/22/2013 1:28:58 AM , Rating: 3
Sleeping may well be something we address. A few manufacturers have put sleep sensors in cars, and given how smartphones have made cameras and SoCs so cheap, it could become a standard soon.

But sleeping at the wheel or ambien or sexting while driving isn't as prevalent as drunk driving, and it's silly to say we shouldn't bother with the latter simply because there are other ways that crashes happen.

If we can make an accurate, convenient, and cheap alcohol detector, then making it standard will be a good initiative. Many people die from others being drunk.


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By FITCamaro on 8/21/2013 11:22:10 PM , Rating: 2
Don't you know we need to design the world so that people can't possibly hurt themselves or others?


By ClownPuncher on 8/22/2013 11:50:58 AM , Rating: 2
Shoot, I forgot.


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By Spuke on 8/21/2013 7:21:21 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
We started two wars and killed thousands of innocent people over terrorism.
Jesus Christ! Really? Why does the Iraq war have to be brought up in every single fucking discussion no matter what it is. What does that have to do with this? I'm really tired of the extremist viewpoints here. This not TECH this is politics. This site really should split and form another site for political discussion and the other for tech. I'm interested in tech not BS politics or social activism. I'm tired of this shit and going on a sabbatical. I'll try back in a few months to see if anything has changed. If it hasn't I'm requesting my username to be removed. This is just plain BS.


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By Reclaimer77 on 8/21/2013 7:38:26 PM , Rating: 2
Awww man. Leaving me alone with these nutjobs? :(


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By Monkey's Uncle on 8/21/2013 9:00:47 PM , Rating: 1
I got your back.

Sounds to me like Mr "drunk drivers killed more people than terrorists" is the kind of person that needs crap like this in their car since he as all but confessed to doing it.

I for one don't frigging need that junk in my car and I sure as shit ain't gonna pay a car maker to put it in.


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By Reclaimer77 on 8/21/2013 9:29:57 PM , Rating: 2
Thanks!

I love how I'm getting more grief for my stance here, than him who flat out admitted he drinks and drives!!!

quote:
Sounds to me like Mr "drunk drivers killed more people than terrorists" is the kind of person that needs crap like this in their car since he as all but confessed to doing it.


LOL yeah you seem to be the only other person here who's picked up on that...


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By Manch on 8/22/2013 6:25:06 PM , Rating: 1
Its sad that you get more grief than an admitted drunk driver does. I was hit by a drunk driver in 08 while walking home. Fractured my skull lost a bit of eye socket, peeled the skin off the side of my face, wrecked my shoulder, took chunks out of my arms and legs and destroyed my knees. I just had knee surgery because of it last October(avoided it as long as I could). It's caused a lot of ongoing issues that i have to deal with until I kick the bucket.

Even after that I dont want this as a mandatory device in vehicles. Does anybody think this crap will stop them? Of course it wont! Extreme fines, loss of driving privileges, jail, ad all the other shit hasnt stopped them.

The only person responsible for my injuries was the drunk asshole speeding thru my neighborhood that hit me.

Why do people think that when some asshole does somthing we have to encroach on law abiding citizens rights with intrusive laws, regulations etc. Its ridiculous. The concept of personal responsibility seems to be lost on people.


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By retrospooty on 8/22/2013 8:01:42 AM , Rating: 2
I'm interested in tech not BS politics or social activism. I'm tired of this shit and going on a sabbatical. I'll try back in a few months to see if anything has changed.

No man, if you quit because some people are stupid then you have to quit the entire world, because they are everywhere. The more voices of reason the better.


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By FITCamaro on 8/21/2013 11:24:15 PM , Rating: 2
So your friends are idiots so that means we all need to be punished.

And we don't give billions to oil companies. They have tax breaks like other companies.

But good to see those college professors did their job.


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By Manch on 8/22/13, Rating: 0
RE: The big brother/nanny state
By Jeffk464 on 8/21/2013 7:54:09 PM , Rating: 2
How does this hurt you? It will actually prevent people from getting DUI's.


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By gamerk2 on 8/22/2013 1:19:24 PM , Rating: 2
Its more a protest against "big government", even if such a system will reduce costs (DUI's are expensive) and reduce fatalities. No different then mandating seatbelts and airbags.


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By Monkey's Uncle on 8/21/2013 8:54:02 PM , Rating: 2
Agreed. I haven't had a single alcoholic drink in over 10 years. My wife in about 5. Why should we need to pay for the expense of these sensors in our cars?

Will these sensors stop impaired driving with people who...

... drive tired
... have taken prescription sedatives
... have taken mind-altering street drugs
... who are blitzed on pot?
... who are distracted with texting while driving 60 mi/hr down a highway in the fast lane?

Hell no. Yet there are just as many or more accidents caused by the conditions I just described.

No thanks. If you are convicted of drunk driving, then sure - put one in their car, but for those of us that don't frigging well drink - leave us out of it!!


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By Labotomizer on 8/22/2013 11:41:39 AM , Rating: 2
This is such a terrible argument against it. And I'm not saying I'm for the installation of these devices but your argument is flat out terrible.

By your logic, making theft illegal doesn't stop people from stealing cars, so why bother? Making smoking crack illegal doesn't stop crack from being smoked, so why bother? Seriously, awful argument.

And do you have any idea how many of the people who die in crashes involving drunk drivers are NOT THE ONES DRIVING? I'm all for personal responsibility. But when you're driving drunk it's likely you will significantly impact other people's lives.

There are valid concerns with invasion of privacy. And concerns about malfunctions preventing you from driving your car, of course sometimes the ignition malfunctions but that doesn't mean we do away with ignitions... But making up silly arguments about why it shouldn't happen isn't the way to go about it.


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By wookie1 on 8/22/2013 12:23:45 PM , Rating: 2
I would disagree and say his point is very valid. Why should he have to pay to have a device in his car that 1) takes away his liberty and 2) will not legitimately stop him from doing something dangerous since he wouldn't have done it anyway. Drinking and driving is already illegal, so the rest of your arguments don't make sense. There are even DUI checkpoints! There are no stolen car checkpoints (that would be unconstitutional).

Ignition malfunction is one thing, but having to prove to your car that you haven't been drinking is ridiculous. Especially since it's so much more dangerous to drive when tired.


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By Manch on 8/23/2013 7:22:47 AM , Rating: 2
well you need the ignition to start the car so bad example...

I think the reason why most people are against this is because they dont feel they should have to be burden by intrusive systems for crimes they have not commited.


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By Manch on 8/23/2013 7:19:57 AM , Rating: 2
If you get busted then sure by all means, put one in their car at their expense! Virginia does this with those breathalyzer machines. They still dont work since someone can blow for you. People will find away around these too. Making everyone have one of these is just mind boggling retarded.


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By Samus on 8/22/2013 5:45:19 AM , Rating: 2
I'm all for it! I look forward to giving my car a blowjob every time I want it to start.

/sarc


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By MindParadox on 8/22/2013 8:07:24 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Really! I mean is this the point where even the most apathetic person might think "okay that's going too far."? I really hope so. To make something like this mandatory standard equipment in all vehicles...it's just so overboard it hurts my brain. I would totally be okay with forcing this on people with a record of DUI's, they've broken the law. But in EVERY CAR!!??


First, driving is a PRIVILEGE, not a right. Secondly, did you know that in some countries, the first offense for a DUI is death?

Personally, I like that one, but here in America, we are pansies, and everyone would piss and moan, cause you know, EVERYONE and their mother right now feels it's just fine to drink "after a few". Seriously, the amount of people who drive home from bars alone every night trashed who INSIST they are just "Buzzed" is crazy to start with, because there is no set standard for what is drunk(there really can't be, due to alcohol tolerance and such being different for everyone).

Go to a bar/club one night a week for say, three weeks, and on that night, don't drink, and watch the people driving off at the end of the night. BE SOBER WHEN YOU DO THIS, NOT ONE SINGLE DRINK ALL NIGHT. Then, if you can honestly say that something like this wouldn't be a good idea, get your head examined.

On a side note, it would have stopped the moron who drove over my aunt and uncle(and like 5 other people) at noon on a busy street when I was a kid, cause he had a blood alcohol level of 1.9 when they pulled him outta the car.


RE: The big brother/nanny state
By Reclaimer77 on 8/22/2013 8:35:08 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
First, driving is a PRIVILEGE, not a right.


What does that have to do with anything here? Why do you idiots think that proves they can force any equipment on our personal property they see fit?

Also this device in essence violates our 4'th Amendment rights. With no due process or warrant, it forces you to submit to a search.

So you can take your "privilege" talking point and shove it.

quote:
EVERYONE and their mother right now feels it's just fine to drink "after a few".


Well I don't, and I know lots of people who don't. So why do I need to have this device in my car again?

quote:
On a side note, it would have stopped the moron who drove over my aunt and uncle(and like 5 other people) at noon on a busy street when I was a kid


Ah, another person who wants to insult me because he had a tragedy happen in his life. You aren't the only one who's lost a loved one. That doesn't give you carte blanch to browbeat others into embracing vehicular fascism.

I'll make you a deal: YOU buy my next car for me, and you can put in any equipment you want. Okay?


"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007














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