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Your next car might refuse to start if you’re drunk

Can new alcohol safety options save thousands of lives every year?


Mike Wehner


Posted on Jun 9, 2015   Updated on May 28, 2021, 3:23 pm CDT

We all know we shouldn’t drink and drive, but that doesn’t stop some from climbing behind the wheel after they’ve had one too many. Soon, those who choose to drink and drive may find that law enforcement has a new ally in the fight against drunk drivers: their own cars.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has revealed a new program that could give your next car or truck the ability to choose whether or not you’re allowed to drive, reading your level of drunkenness before giving you the all clear to pull out of your parking space.

Ignition interlock devices, which are essentially breathalyzers built into a car’s ignition system, have existed for years, and are typically assigned by courts to drivers who have been convicted of drunk driving one or more times in the past. The new technology being developed with the help of the NHTSA works a bit differently, reading the alcohol content of a driver’s breath automatically, without requiring that they actually blow into a device.

A second prototype, also of interest to the NHTSA, reads the blood alcohol content of an individual through their skin, and could conceivably be built in to a car’s shift knob or even these steering wheel itself. Once the technology matures, the agency believes these types of alcohol detection systems will become standard features in new vehicles, potentially saving thousands of lives in the process. 

H/T Ars Technica | Image via AndYaDontStop/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

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*First Published: Jun 9, 2015, 5:39 pm CDT