Government agency: Drunk drivers should get high-tech penalty


A federal agency wants everyone convicted of drunk driving offenses to be forced to have a breathalyzer fitted to their vehicles.

The National Transportation Safety Board says that current rules that make such set-ups mandatory in 17 states need to go nationwide.

The NTSB made the recommendation after concluding a study looking at crashes between 2004 and 2009 where at least one vehicle was driving the wrong way on a high speed road. It found an average of 260 such collisions each year lead to deaths, with an annual average of 360 victims. The study found that around 60 percent of such crashes involved the effects of alcohol.

The devices the NTSB want fitted are called ignition interlocks. They require a driver to blow into them and pass a breathalyzer test before the car will start. Of course, this doesn’t stop a drunk driver using somebody else’s car or getting somebody to blow into the device for them, but it should cut down on drivers who have genuinely underestimated their level of intoxication.

The agency also backed efforts to develop a technology for voluntary use that would detect excessive levels of alcohol on breath through both ambient air sensors, and through a dashboard sensor that can measure alcohol concentration with a light sensor that tracks the dermal layer of skin. The idea is to allow drivers to get almost instantaneous testing rather than have to go through the breathalyzer process, which can take up to 30 seconds.

Those working on the project, dubbed Driver Alcohol Detection System For Safety, say they’ve developed prototypes that can already measure alcohol levels to an acceptable level of accuracy.

The Daily Tech site noted that France — which already requires drivers to carry safety equipment such as fire extinguishers and spare headlamp bulbs — began enforcing a law in July that means every car must have a handheld breathalyzer, though there’s no requirement to actually use it. It seems highly unlikely such a rule would find favor in the United States when it comes to the general population rather than convicted drunk drivers, particularly on a federal basis.

(Image credit: Rsheram via Creative Commons license)

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