The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration unveiled a prototype technology aimed at eliminating deaths caused by drunk driving. Developed as part of a research partnership that began in 2008 between NHTSA and the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS) and dubbed DADSS (Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety), the system is designed to detect blood alcohol levels and prevent an impaired driver from operating a vehicle while under the influence.  

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On a DADSS-equipped car or truck, accurately ascertaining blood alcohol levels could be accomplished in less than a second using one of two non-intrusive methods. Sensors mounted on the steering column or door panel could evaluate the driver's exhaled breath to determine the percentage of ethanol to oxygen molecules or an infrared sensor located on the start button or shift lever would use an infrared light beam to do the same by directly "reading" the alcohol levels present in blood circulating just below the surface of a fingertip. According to developers, the DADSS system would be able to accurately differentiate between the blood alcohol levels of drivers versus passengers with the breath detector, while parents or business owners will be able to customize the effective threshold setting to a zero-tolerance level.  

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"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," NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind noted. "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." NHTSA believes a commercially viable DADSS system is still about five years away. It remains to be seen if it will take the form of a mandated technology in all vehicles or be offered as an option much like other forms of advanced safety-related technology.

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