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Anti-DWI technology: Will it ever make it into vehicles?

There can be little doubt that driving while intoxicated continues to be a significant problem in Texas and the rest of the country. Our state consistently receives the dubious distinction of having the highest number of fatalities due to drunk driving. The latest numbers for 2013 from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show Texas in the top spot again with 1,337 deaths. California follows with 867.

Governments at nearly every level are doing what they can to try to counter the trend. But those efforts tend to be employed only after a tragedy has occurred. That does little to ease the trauma of those who are victims of impaired drivers

Penalties for a conviction might involve jail time. They might result in drivers having their licenses suspended. And then there are the ignition interlock devices that are supposed to prevent a driver from starting their vehicle if a breath check shows they have alcohol in their system. Some have observed, though, that some of those barriers are easily ignored or worked around.

The technological solution is one that NHTSA is strongly supporting. In fact, it recently unveiled two prototype devices that officials say could be the possible solution to preventing drunk driving in the very near future. One device is so sensitive it can detect alcohol in drivers' breath without them having to blow into a tester.

The other gauges blood alcohol content using an infrared scope. The driver puts a finger on a button. If the device detects a BAC level over the legal limit the vehicle won't start.

NHTSA officials say the idea is to make one or the other of the devices available as an option to buyers of new vehicles in the near future. They suggest it could be really useful to curbing teen drunk driving and impaired operation among fleet drivers.

Mark Rosekind, NHTSA's administrator, says full implementation is still sometime off in the future. But he says the prototypes represent a major development.

Source: The Christian Science Monitor, "Could this new technology put a stop to drunk driving?," Gretel Kauffman, June 8, 2015 

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