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)

11 Responses to Government agency: Drunk drivers should get high-tech penalty

  1. They also require the driver to blow into the device at random intervals while driving. Sure, you could have someone blow into it to get it started for you, but then same sober person would have to come along for the ride and keep blowing into it. I think you'd find far fewer people suicidal enough to do that.

  2. A close relative had one of these for a year. Didn't drink or drive. It was removed, back on the bottle. They finally hit someone head on, the other person walked away (thank god) but my relative spent 2 months in the hospital clinging to life. [email protected]@hat is he is, got out of hospital, started drinking again. He has no license but access to a few vehicles. He is gonna kill someone this time, I pray its himself and not someone else.

  3. We've already got this penalty in Australia.
    Works a treat one people that are CAUGHT drunk driving, but the problem is catching them in the first place.
    A few of the cleverer, less ethical, ones often get friends to blow into for them on the way home from the pub though.

  4. Hell I'll have one installed now and I've never been changed with a DWI. I've always wondered if sometimes I've been good enough to drive. I'm pretty sure I have been but knowing what is .08 is hard. Its not like I can just KNOW that I'm too drunk to drive unless I'm REALLY smashed. In which case I sit my butt down for a few hours. I've been tempted to actually buy a breathalyzer just for the hell of it.

    • Being over the limit gets you charged but being close can still mean you're dangerous. If you're unsure you probably should not drive for safety reasons not just to avoid a ticket.

  5. but there is one problem with the test devices… had one fly out of my lap and out of reach and the car would autoshut off after 5 mins of not testing again, had about 10 mins before it would make me test again, but my first reaction was not to stop and safely get it… nooo i bent down to the passenger side floor and tried to get it and nearly hit the wall….
    Great freaking idea on both ends!!

  6. In the "Wrong Way Collision" data that the NTSB mined in order to reach their conclusion there were also a significant number of accidents involving sober old people.

    Does this mean we are going to see a recommendation for the mandatory installation of devices that will not allow a driver to operate a vehicle if it determines they are "befuddled" or "confused"?

  7. Two points. Firstly, the article is saying that there are 260 collisions, so there must be some larger number of vehicles driving the wrong way down fast roads. Why? There must be basic flaws in the design of the road system. Wouldn't the practical solution be to fix your roads? Secondly, "60 percent of such crashes involved the effects of alcohol". That's not the same as saying 60% were caused by intoxicated drivers. What percentage was? Of those, what percentage were convicted drunk drivers? What you have here is a phantom number, chosen because it looks a lot scarier than the actual useful number would. And that's a sign of a researcher trying to get his grant renewed.

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