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Alcohol-Sensing Technology in Vehicles on the Horizon

Your car already notifies you if you wear a seatbelt, but consider if your vehicle also monitored how much alcohol you consumed. The federal transportation bill in the Senate is calling for over $30 million in funds to be designated towards research for alcohol-sensing technology in cars over the next several years.

Already many states, including Tennessee, use ignition interlock devices. These devices are used in some more serious Tennessee DUI cases, and require a driver to blow into the device before starting the vehicle. If the device detects a high blood-alcohol content the vehicle will not start.

New technologies would be less intrusive than the current ignition interlocks, but standard for all new vehicles. One option is tissue spectrometry, where lasers would be used to determine the presence of alcohol in human tissue. Another option is called distant spectrometry, where sensors would detect alcohol in the driver's breath whenever he or she entered the vehicle. Both technologies would aim to prevent drivers who consumed a certain amount of alcohol from driving.

Requiring that such technology be integrated on all vehicles, instead of only those of convicted drunk drivers, is a significant step that many consider an overreach of government. Critics argue that such technologies may easily malfunction. For instance a person who only had a single drink, or is completely sober, may be prevented from driving home. Additionally, such technologies will likely increase the cost of vehicles for everyone.

Even if the government moves forward with designating funding for research, widespread implementation of such technologies is likely far off.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Should future cars curb drunk drivers?," Dan Turner, Mar. 28, 2012.

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