Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Drink driving smart cars

In car breath tests could become the norm

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced that they have developed a new technology to prevent drink driving offences.  Called the DriverAlcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) the technology will monitor the alcohol level of drivers and immobilise the vehicle if the driver exceeds the drink driving limit.

DADSS can operate through an in-car breath test machine that operates as the driver breaths normally, i.e. there is no need to breath into a special device for a set period of time as with systems that you can currently buy to fit to vehicles.  The other option is a system that claims to be able to monitor blood alcohol levels via infrared detectors mounted in the steering wheel.  It’s unclear at the moment whether DADSS will use breath and blood analysis together or separately.

The proposal at the moment is to offer DADSS as an optional extra, although it’s difficult to see it being a popular option.  People who don’t care about drink driving won’t buy it and nor will people who are convinced drink driving is something they would never do – in our experience most of our clients fall into the latter category.  The only real market we can see for this technology is parents concerned about their children drink driving – how big a market that is we don’t know but we have only come across one youngster with the current technology fitted to his car.

We see possible problems with the system.  First, if the car is simply analysing the air inside the car it gives rise to the possibility of false positives from passengers and even from chemical fumes that can mimic alcohol in the air – in one particular case we discovered a roofer who was able to set off breathalysers at 50 paces due to the type and amount of chemicals he used in his daily work.

This system is being designed by the US safety administration with the cooperation of leading vehicle manufactures from around the world, including BMW, Mazda, Porsche, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Land Rover and many others.  This means that the system will have to be programmed for each jurisdiction because different countries have different drink driving limits.  If a computer can be programmed it’s likely it can be reprogrammed – car enthusiasts already reprogram their car’s computer to produce more power from the engine and tweak other functions.  Is there really anything to stop people reprogramming this device?

Is the future self driving cars?
Anybody who has driven cars fitted with automatic windscreen wipers may also be dubious about how reliable car manufactures can make this technology – our experience at least is that automatic windscreen wipers are completely unable to detect water on the windscreen properly, so will a car be able to detect alcohol inside a human body any better?

It’s worth remembering that Toyota have been working on their own version of DADSS for more than a decade but have yet to bring any technology to market in their vehicles, which may give some indication of just how difficult a challenge this is.

Some people have suggested that DADSS is the technological equivalent of Betamax in that by the time it is ready to launch self-driving cars will be available thus rendering this technology irreleva

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