Drunk-Driving Prevention Technology: DADSS Program

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Newly introduced bipartisan legislation would earmark $60 million over a five-year period to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) program.

The Research of Alcohol Detection Systems for Stopping Alcohol-related Fatalities Everywhere (ROADS SAFE) Act would authorize the expenditure of existing funding for the program. The money would reportedly be taken from funding set aside to encourage seat belt use.

The ROADS SAFE Act was introduced by U.S. Representatives Heath Shuler (D-NC) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). It is supported by various organizations including local and state law enforcement officials, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), and the auto industry.

“Every year drunk drivers take thousands of innocent lives and cause tremendous devastation to countless families and communities in Western North Carolina and across the country,” said Shuler in a released statement. “DADSS technology has the potential to be a game changer in the fight against drunk driving, but now we must take the next steps necessary to make sure it can be widely implemented. With this common sense legislation, we have the opportunity to stop drunk driving before it even starts.”

According to the legislators, there were 10,839 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities in 2009. Drunk-driving now accounts for a third of all highway fatalities every year. They estimate that “9,000 road traffic deaths could be prevented every year if alcohol detection technologies were more widely used to prevent alcohol-impaired drivers from operating their vehicles.”

The DADSS program is designed solely to develop in-vehicle technology to prevent drunk driving. It is a cooperative research project of The Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety and the NHTSA. The language in the legislation contends, “Alcohol detection technologies will not be widely accepted by the public unless they are moderately priced, absolutely reliable, and set at a level that would not prevent a driver whose blood alcohol content is less than the legal limit from operating a vehicle.

The DADSS program is reportedly working on two approaches: one measures the alcohol in a driver’s breath; the other uses light-based measurement to determine the alcohol content in a driver’s body tissue. The program is reportedly most interested in developing non-invasive, reliable technologies that are very different from conventional ignition locks used to prevent convicted drunk drivers from starting their vehicles if alcohol is detected in a breath sample.

Among the related technologies the NHTSA is developing include sensor-based detection devices that could be mounted on the steering wheel or engine start button that determine a driver’s blood alcohol content as well as sensors that passively monitor a driver’s breath or eye movements. With these technologies, a vehicle would not start if the driver’s blood alcohol level is determined to exceed .08, which is the legal alcohol limit.

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure is reviewing The ROADS SAFE Act. Similar legislation, which was introduced in March, is under review by the Senate’s Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

By Linda Dailey Paulson, head writer for the Law Offices of Daniel R. Rosen, P.C.