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Bipartisan infrastructure bill funds new technology in vehicles to combat drunk driving

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Posted at 8:51 AM, Aug 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-19 12:14:59-04

The Senate recently passed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill that will allocate $11 billion for transportation safety. One part of that relates to new technology added to vehicles to help prevent drunk driving deaths.

“The DADSS technology is novel technology, completely different than the conventional breathalyzer everyone is familiar with,” said Robert Strassburger, president and CEO of the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety.

The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, or DADSS for short, is a different type of detection system than what you might be used to seeing.

“This technology is intended to be working in the background, installed in the vehicle at the time the vehicle is made,” Strassburger said.

He oversees the development of this tech.

“By breathing naturally or by touching the steering wheel or the starter button, the system would measure your blood alcohol concentration,” he said.

If your BAC, or blood alcohol concentration, was over a certain threshold, the car would respond in a number of possible ways: either give a warning, not start, or not change gears.

“This is very high-risk research,” he said.

And after 20 years of helping develop this technology, Strassburger said more work and research still needs to be done.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that about 28 people in the U.S. die each day in drunk driving crashes. In 2019, more than 10,142 people lost their lives.

“Prior to moving the vehicle, I can see that saving a lot of our young kids, or those one-time offenders,” Dr. Tricia Hudson-Matthew, associate professor at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, said on the different technologies being developed for drunk driving prevention.

Dr. Hudson-Matthew is a substance abuse expert and sees how technologies that can monitor a number of factors, from speed to lane changing to slurred speech, can help.

“They’re looking at the ways of picking up, detecting behavioral patterns in the car, which will be interesting,” she said.

This new technology could be in every car manufactured in just a few years. The Senate recently passed a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill that includes language on automobile safety. The bill will go to the House next.

“It’s multisectoral, and by that I mean it deals with a number of infrastructure sectors at once in a sort of holistic way. That is in contrast to what Congress normally does,” said Rick Geddes, founding director at the Cornell University Program in Infrastructure Policy. “What we have is a mandate from the Senate for the National Highway and Safety Administration to develop the technology. And to look at the technologies that are out there and develop a standard within three years so that new cars would have to have some standard, which is to be determined.”

Economist Alan Gin said something like this does come at a cost.

“It’s been estimated this infrastructure package is going to add about $250 billion to the federal debt over a 10 year period,” said Gin, an economics professor at the University of San Diego.

So who will pay for this new technology in every car? Strassburger said while they don’t have an exact cost just yet, it will probably be up to the manufacturers what cost is implemented on consumers, if any.

“It will be their decision what to charge, how to charge it,” he said.

DADSS continues to develop the tech to quantify the amount of alcohol in a driver’s blood.

“Our quantification will be linkable to the gold standard, which is a hospital blood draw,” Strassburger said. “Our job ultimately is to produce the best, most accurate, most reliable, best-performing sensor as possible.”

And after decades of research, Strassburger is seeing the results.

“What is really rewarding is after being involved in this program for so long, I can see the finish line. I can see we’re going to finish and that is really great,” he said.