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NTSB looks to technology to end drunken driving in the U.S.

NTSB looks to technology to end drunken driving in the U.S.
Tuesday, December 11, 2012 - 6:42pm

In hopes of someday virtually ending drunken driving in the United States, federal safety advocates Tuesday encouraged ongoing development of in-vehicle technology that unobtrusively tests all motorists to see if they have imbibed.

The National Transportation Safety Board also said that all 50 states should require ignition interlock devices for any driver convicted even once of driving under the influence. The devices are now required for first-time offenders in about one-third of states.

The board encouraged continued research in DADSS -- driver alcohol detection system for safety -- which tests drivers through either touch or breath. If the government and automakers overcome technological hurdles and win public acceptance, the DADSS system could be installed as standard equipment on cars and essentially eliminate drunken driving, saving more than 7,000 lives a year, the board said.

The safety board called the DADSS technology "promising," although acknowledging it is years away from perfecting.

But in a sign that political challenges are as formidable as technological ones, a restaurant trade association immediately criticized both recommendations.

"If this technology is successfully implemented in all cars, it will be nearly impossible for drivers to have a glass of wine with dinner without worrying whether their cars will start," Sarah Longwell of the American Beverage Institute said in a written statement. The system "will make responsible social drinking before driving a thing of the past."

And interlock devices, which prevent an engine from starting until a breath sample is analyzed, should be used only for hard-core, repeat offenders, Longwell said.

Interestingly, the NTSB recommended the ambitious goals while focused on a relatively rare transportation occurrence -- accidents caused by motorists driving the wrong way on divided highways. Some 300 people die on average every year in such collisions, a number that has held steady for years.

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