Should In-Car Alcohol Sensors Be Used To Prevent Drunk Driving?
Two years ago we ran a post about in-car alcohol detection systems, a technology that will enable a vehicle to detect when a driver is intoxicated.
At that time, we asked the question Should in-car alcohol detection systems be mandatory?, and the response from our readers seemed to focus on three separate positions:
- Those who were strongly in favor of this type of automotive technology, arguing that safety is paramount.
- Those focused on the privacy issues surrounding alcohol detection systems, complaining that the idea was not only too intrusive into their personal lives but also in contravention of already-existing laws governing personal property and conduct.
- Those who believe the technology is too flawed for it to ever make its way to dealer showrooms.
While all of these points have their merits, the last point about technological limitations is really the most critical. Until a workable technology can be found, weighing the merits of a mandatory drunk-driving prevention system is academic. However, it seems that the technical challenges are closer than ever to being solved.
In-Car Alcohol Detection Technologies
Most of the technology and research into in-car alcohol detection falls into four categories:
- Sniffers – “Sniffing” the air in areas near the driver’s face – above the driver in the headliner, on the steering wheel, etc. – may be a good way to determine if a driver is drunk.
- Skin sensors – Surfaces that are touched by the driver can include special sensors that detect alcohol on or in the driver’s skin. Some of these sensors are now highly accurate.
- Driving pattern recognition – Drunk drivers tend to have slow reaction times, meandering steering control, and uneven brake and acceleration responses. A vehicle’s computer can be tuned to detect this erratic behavior.
- Facial recognition – Using a camera locked on to the driver’s face, the vehicle can monitor if their eyes are open, how their eyes track with steering inputs, etc., to determine if a driver is drunk.
Obviously, each of these technologies has flaws. Some skin sensors can’t determine between alcohol from a beer or alcohol from hand sanitizer. Sniffers can’t tell if a driver is drunk or if the vehicle is filled with drunk passengers. Driving pattern and facial recognition technology are difficult to calibrate and not necessarily indicative of alcohol.
However, if these technologies continue to improve – and if a vehicle uses all of these tools together – the chances of a false-positive are greatly reduced. It’s estimated that by 2013, there will be a workable in-car alcohol detection system prototype that is nearly fool-proof.
What Do You Do With A Drunken Driver?
Let’s assume for a moment that the in-car alcohol detection systems work as advertised. There are still a lot of unanswered questions:
- How should a vehicle respond when it believes the driver is drunk? Obviously, if the vehicle can prevent a drunk person for starting their vehicle, that would be the best course of action…but what if a person drinks as they drive down the road?
- When a driver becomes inebriated, does the car automatically shut-off at the next stoplight? Should police be contacted electronically?
- Should drunk driving data be recorded in a vehicle’s computer? If so, for how long? If a person drove drunk 3 years ago, and that data is still in their vehicle’s memory, what are their rights?
- What if a person gets into an accident and one of their in-car alcohol detection system’s sensors registers a false-positive? Could that record be used against that person, even if the reading was likely in error?
- Could an insurance company access a vehicle’s computer to determine if and/or when a driver may have been drunk? Could insurance costs or accident liability be determined as a result?
These are all reasonable concerns, and many of them fall into the realm of privacy. While it’s true that there’s no “right to privacy” when a drunk driver is sharing the same road with members of the public, what about some of the gray areas regarding when and how this data is used?
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 64% of Americans support the installation of this type of technology in modern automobiles in order to prevent future drunk driving tragedies. Here at Tundra Headquarters, we would like to re-sample our readers and see how you feel about in-car alcohol detection systems:
Filed Under: Auto News