Can Technology Put an End to Drunken Driving?


Detroit News

NHTSA Chief David Strick­land urges the auto indus­try to con­tinue sup­port­ing research on tech­nol­ogy advances that could end most drunken driving.

Find out more about what Strick­land wrote in a let­ter to automakers.

The head of the National High­way Traf­fic Safety Admin­is­tra­tion NHTSA Chief David Strick­land wrote the CEOs of major automak­ers on Aug. 8 telling them that the research backed by automak­ers and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to develop an in-vehicle sys­tem that could pre­vent drunken dri­vers from start­ing a car shows great promise. He thanked those who are help­ing fund the project — includ­ing Detroit’s Big Three automak­ers — and urged them to keep sup­port­ing the project and asked oth­ers to join the effort.

The group is work­ing with two auto sup­pli­ers with dif­fer­ent approaches that “are shown to be very, very effec­tive,” Strick­land said at a speech last week. “We prob­a­bly have another five years of work to go,” Strick­land said, before it’s pos­si­ble one of these cars could be on the roads. “It will be avail­able as an option by man­u­fac­tur­ers, and I think it’s a real way forward.”

The research has been ongo­ing since 2008. Con­gress approved $5.3 mil­lion for this bud­get year for alco­hol detec­tion research; Con­gress has autho­rized slightly more for the bud­get year that starts Oct. 1.

“A tan­gi­ble result of that work will be demon­strated later this year, when a research vehi­cle includ­ing both touch-based and breath-based detec­tion tech­nolo­gies is avail­able for fur­ther eval­u­a­tion,” he wrote. “I have referred to it as a ‘moon­shot’ for traf­fic safety with ini­tially long odds but the poten­tial for dra­mat­i­cally pow­er­ful results if we are successful.”

Strick­land noted that about 10,000 peo­ple are killed each year as a result of drunken dri­ving; tens of thou­sands more are injured.

The indus­try is help­ing to fund the project through the Auto­mo­tive Coali­tion for Traf­fic Safety. NHTSA staff and the group are cur­rently work­ing on a new agree­ment for the next phase.