Uncle Sam developing device to detect alcohol on a driver's breath

What if there were a foolproof device in every car that would keep it from starting if its driver were drunk? It would save tens of thousands of lives every year, and that's why the government is thinking about granting a whopping funding increase to a program working on a Driver Alcohol Detection System.

While many convicted drunk drivers are currently sentenced to breathing into a alcohol-detecting ignition interlock before their cars will start, this new idea would use a method of automatically detecting alcohol on the driver's breath, or somehow testing the alcohol level of body tissue with a light beam. The idea is for it to work perfectly every time, and be completely unobtrusive. Good luck with that.

The government program now receives $2 million of funding per year for developing the device, but now Congress is considering raising that to $12 million a year for five years, for a total of $60 million. If the researchers are able to successfully build the unobtrusive alcohol detector, all automakers will have a right to use it in their cars.

But wait. A booze-sniffing bot in your car? Doesn't this reek of Big Brother? The government says buying a new car with such a device installed would be voluntary, assuming that people would be glad to buy a car with a booze-sniffing interlock in its ignition because of its added safety. Perhaps parents would be more likely to buy it for their teenage drivers. Maybe the feds could give buyers a tax break who have it installed, or insurance companies could lower rates for those who opt for it in their cars.

If this thing could actually work reliably, those of us who've had close friends killed by drunk drivers wouldn't mind seeing it installed in every vehicle as a mandatory accessory. What do you think?

The New York Times, via Autoblog