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December 14, 2023

Now in Road Safety: NHTSA Pioneers Tech to Curb Drunk Driving

Car manufacturers like Ford & GM continue to push the boundaries of in-car technology to keep drivers focused

Embarking on a quest to combat the perils of drunk driving, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is accelerating efforts to introduce groundbreaking in-car technology. While the current tech, widely employed by auto giants like Ford and GM, has significantly improved driver attentiveness, the NHTSA aims higher—it's envisioning a future where cars actively prevent or minimize the impact of drunk driving incidents.

In a recent 99-page "advanced notice of proposed rulemaking," NHTSA laid out its roadmap toward mandating in-car technology capable of detecting alcohol impairment. This represents a crucial pit stop on the journey to drafting regulations that could reshape the future of road safety.

NHTSA's call to action is clear: it seeks input from the public to identify technologies that can effectively mitigate or prevent alcohol-related impairment. Astonishingly, the agency found no commercially available driver monitoring systems capable of accurately identifying alcohol impairment among the 331 systems evaluated.

President Biden's bipartisan infrastructure law of 2021 set the wheels in motion, tasking NHTSA with developing a federal motor vehicle safety standard to address driver impairment passively or by accurately detecting elevated blood alcohol concentration. While the law emphasizes the importance of passive monitoring, NHTSA acknowledges the challenges and explores active alternatives.

One promising avenue is the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS), a collaborative effort with the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS) since 2008. DADSS has developed both breath- and touch-based methods to detect driver impairment. The touch-based solution, embedded in common interaction points like push-to-start buttons, is deemed a potential passive technology, aligning with the legal requirements.

However, the road ahead is laden with complexities. Questions abound, from ensuring the touch sensor identifies the driver to addressing scenarios where starting the car might be necessary, even in a crisis. Striking the right balance between safety, consumer acceptance, and adherence to legal requirements is paramount.

As NHTSA seeks public input over the next 60 days, the challenge looms large. Yet, the urgency is palpable—with thousands of lives at stake, the quest for a standardized regulation by November 2024 is not just a regulatory milestone; it's a commitment to a safer, technologically advanced future on our roads.

Neil Hodgson-Coyle
Neil Hodgson-Coyle
Editorial chief at TechNews180
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