Car Button Could Tell if You’re Tipsy

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(Courtesy of The Detroit Free Press)

Auburn Hills-based auto supplier Takata is working on a device that checks a driver’s blood-alcohol level through the skin.

Takata and its partner, TruTouch in Albuquerque, N.M., have received a $2.25-million grant from the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS), an industry group. to make the device commercially viable.

The team is working to make its current breadbox-sized device that uses an infrared sensor to determine alcohol level small enough, cheap enough and unobtrusive enough to be put on the car’s start button, said Kirk Morris, Takata’s vice president of business development.

Another goal is to reduce the processing time from several seconds to 200 milliseconds and to be able to function not just at room temperature, as it does now, but from 40 below to 85 degrees and with different humidity and vibration levels.

The reader is as accurate as a blood test. Takata is aiming to get the cost down to approximately $200 each.

“The goal is to take impaired drivers off the road,” Morris said. “Breathalyzers are invasive. You have to blow into a tube. If this technology is to be used on a daily basis, we want it to be noninvasive, not intrusive. … Drivers pushing a button wouldn’t even know it’s there.”

In 2009, close to 11,000 Americans, or one every 48 minutes, were killed in drunken-driving accidents — 32% of the country’s total motor vehicle traffic fatalities — according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s most recent data.

NHTSA has a five-year, $10-million joint initiative with the ACTS called the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety.

In a statement, NHTSA said that project “is seen as a potential tool for keeping drunk drivers from being able to operate their car if their blood-alcohol concentration is at or above the legal intoxication limit (.08 or higher). The technology could be voluntarily installed as an option for new cars and signal a new frontier in the fight against drunk driving.”

Susan Ferguson, program director for Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, said she expects to see this alcohol screener go to market in eight to 10 years.

Takata’s parent company is based in Tokyo.


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