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Drunk-Driving Prevention Technology - The Car of the Future?

Anti-drunk cars may be the future. Nissan have released concepts for drunk-recognition technology in their vehicles, including drunk-driving behavior detection, facial monitoring, alcohol odor sensors (which may prove tricky when the driver is not intoxicated but passengers are), and sensors within the steering wheel which will detect alcohol in the perspiring palms of the driver. Other companies are piloting laser technology which will be able to sample the level of alcohol in a driver’s blood. Nissan’s concept involves a voice warning being activated if any of these technological triggers are set off, although some are calling for the car to be rendered un-drivable if the car senses that the driver is irrefutably over the limit. While there are many issues to be ironed out, and many people may find the idea an awkward, irritating, or even insulting, it seems that anti-drunk cars could be hitting the roads within the next few years.

Drinking and Driving

There are ways and means of getting home in your own car after a heavy night – but none of the legal ones involve you driving. Most governments recommend that one member of a party heading for a night out be a ‘designated driver’ – someone who stays sober in order to taxi the others home safely at the end of the night. There are also companies like ‘Drunk Rescue’, who will come and pick up those who are over the limit and drive them home in their own cars. This is beneficial for customers as it not only allows them to drive to the drinking venue beforehand (thus eliminating the hassle of public transport or taxis at the start of the night), it also ensures that their car is waiting for them in its usual place in the morning, rather than abandoned outside a bar somewhere. However, there are still those who get into their cars at the end of the night and believe themselves safe to drive. Unfortunately, however familiar the route, and however competent the drink-driver considers themselves to be, drunk-driving can have devastating consequences.

Thirty Preventable Deaths A Day

According to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention, almost thirty Americans die every single day in vehicular accidents involving a driver who has been drinking. That’s a staggering figure. Much of the problem arises from the fact that many drinkers, while being aware of the potential problems which can arise from driving while even slightly drunk, believe that the horror-stories they have heard are something which happens to other people. Alcohol removes inhibitions and lends a feeling of invulnerability which is not particularly conducive to doing the sensible thing and admitting that, however one feels, one may nonetheless not be safe to drive. It is this uninhibited feeling of indestructibility which causes many to turn to alcohol as a social lubricant and even coping mechanism for escaping their problems. In the long term, using alcohol as a coping mechanism for the feeling of invulnerability it bestows can lead to addiction and all its inherent health and social issues. In the short term, it sends people leaping happily behind the wheels of their cars, despite being over the limit and a danger to themselves and others. The federal and state governments are doing their best to bring this figure down by instituting measures like sobriety checkpoints, and raising the unit price on alcohol through taxation. However, such things are considered annoying by the general public. Far better, perhaps, to have cars which will themselves actively discourage drink driving – or even render it impossible.

Mandatory Anti-Drunk Devices

DUI penalties vary from country to country. Compared to the UK (where a DUI conviction typically results in a ban from driving for a substantial period of time - permanently, if the drink-driving occurs more than once or leads to an accident) and other European nations, the US’s drink-driving laws are quite lenient. However, many states do either require or recommend that repeat DUI offenders to have an ignition-interlock device installed in their cars. These are essentially breathalyzers which analyze the driver’s alcohol level before the car can be started. If the driver is over the limit, the car will not start. In Australia, the Ministry of Transport are considering having these fitted as a mandatory measure in all new cars, and the interest shown by Nissan and other manufacturers in anti-drunk technology indicates that, perhaps, anti-drunk driving devices may become a common feature of new cars in the not-too-distant future. Whether this is popular remains to be seen. While it will undoubtedly prove a hit with governments and the worried loved ones of habitual drink-drivers, some may see it as ‘nannying’, and resent the implication that they cannot be trusted to police their own drinking habits. The thirty Americans who will die tomorrow due to drink-driving, however, may disagree.

contributed by Emma Peterson


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