Imagine that you’ve spent some time at a bar or at a party with friends. You’ve had a couple of drinks, but you don’t feel particularly tipsy—so when you leave, you get into your car thinking you’re safe to drive home. Your car, however, doesn’t seem to cooperate. Either it refuses to start, or when it starts, you can’t put it into gear. The car sends you a message, either audibly or by text, that your blood alcohol content is too high, and offers to call a taxi for you.
If you think this scenario sounds like a sci-fi movie set decades into the future, think again. The technology already exists to generate this level of DUI prevention, and within a few years we may even see cars equipped with this tech entering the mainstream. In fact, over the next ten years we may see emerging technology radically reshape the ways in which DUI is prevented and/or enforced. Let’s explore a few examples.
Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS)
The federally funded DADSS research program has been in play for several years, exploring different ways vehicles might be equipped with technology to prevent vehicle operation if the driver’s BAC is too high. Ignition interlocks already enjoy wide use, but the breathing tube required to operate them can be cumbersome and off-putting. The DADSS program is researching technologies that can detect alcohol levels more naturally, whether in the air or through the driver’s touch.
Last fall, the DADSS began its first real-life tests of this technology in Virginia. The cars were equipped with a special non-obtrusive sensor, an air vent installed in the dashboard, that can detect alcohol through the driver’s normal breathing without the need for forced exhalation into a tube. If the device measures a BAC level over the legal limit, unlike an ignition interlock, the vehicle will start but can’t be put into gear. By allowing the car to start, the driver has the option of charging his phone in order to call a cab. Once the technology becomes available to consumers, developers believe the device may be used as more than just a punitive device for prior DUI offenders—it may also serve as an overall prevention device (for example, parents may install the device to protect their teen drivers from DUI).
Nissan’s Preventative Concept Car
Leaning into the idea of the vehicle serving as the primary deterrent to DUI, Nissan recently unveiled a concept car equipped with multiple layers of deterrent technologies. Among the vehicle’s features:
• An alcohol sensor built into the shift knob which can detect alcohol content through the driver’s perspiration. The transmission locks and the car stops moving if over-limit BAC levels are detected.
• Additional alcohol sensors built into the seats to detect the presence of alcohol in the air. When triggered, the sensors issue a voice and message alert.
• Facial monitoring. A camera aimed at the face monitors the driver’s consciousness levels based on the blinking of the eyes. If the system detects drowsiness, it triggers a voice/message alert and tightens the seatbelt to get the driver’s attention.
• Operational behavior monitoring. Additional sensors measure the operation of the vehicle itself, not unlike existing lane-changing safety mechanisms built into cars now. If the sensors detect vehicle drift, the system sends a voice/message alert and tightens the seat belt.
While it remains to be seen whether vehicles of the future will incorporate all of these features, we can see several advantages to the multi-layered approach. First, having several detection systems provides a safety net in case one of the systems fails to detect a problem. Second, some of these features may also protect against other unsafe driving behaviors such as drowsy or distracted driving, even if DUI is not a factor.
Laser-Based Alcohol Detection
In 2014, a group of Polish scientists raised sharp interest (and a few eyebrows) by developing a laser sensor that reportedly could detect alcohol vapors inside a moving vehicle as it passes by. Effectively, this technology would enable traffic officers to detect the presence of alcohol in a similar way that they currently use radar guns to gauge speed. If developed and released, the technology could potentially radically change law enforcement tactics with regard to DUI. That said, we have not heard much more about this technology since the early reports came out—which may suggest that the legal questions and ramifications of such a device could be prohibitive. Nevertheless, we would do well to know that the technology exists and may at some point come into the spotlight.
Ever since self-driving cars were in the development stage, experts and pundits have speculated whether autonomous vehicles could ultimately cure the DUI problem. Now that early forms of self-driving technology have entered the mainstream and more advanced autonomous vehicles are being successfully tested, the question looms even larger. After all, if a vehicle can drive itself, the “driver’s” impairment ceases to be an issue, at least in theory. We may still be years away from fully autonomous vehicles, but the question is worth discussing.
With the exception of laser detectors, we can see one common thread among all these emerging technologies: An emphasis on preventing DUI, rather than merely punishing it. We find this development promising because while stricter laws may deter some drivers from DUI, the ultimate solution to the problem is to find ways to keep DUI from ever occurring to begin with.
If you have been recently arrested and charged with DUI and need compassionate representation, we are here to help. Call our offices for a free case evaluation.