Schumer seeks to accelerate new anti-DWI technology in cars

07/27/2015 10:14 AM |

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Just over a week after a crash in Cutchogue killed four women and a man was charged with driving while intoxicated following the incident, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer is calling for federal funding for a new technology that would would disable a car’s ignition if a driver is drunk.

The Senator specifically cited the recent fatal crash in Cutchouge in a press release promoting the proposed new technology.

“Tragedies like last week’s unthinkable Long Island crash are repeated far too often, but use of sensible technology could spare lives and families,” Mr. Schumer  (D-Brooklyn) said in a press release Sunday.

The Cutchogue case involved a truck that crashed into a limo killing four women in the limo. Police have charged the truck driver with driving while intoxicated, however it remains unclear if the driver was drunk at the time of the accident. His blood alcohol content, which was taken one hour and 40 minutes after the crash, came in below the limit for driving while intoxicated.

The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety research program, or DADSSS, is a joint venture of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS), which represents the world’s leading automakers.

Senator Schumer said he’s pushing new legislation calling the “Road Safe Act,” which would accelerate the development of such new technology to prevent people from driving drunk. The proposed legislation would help accomplish this goal, he said.

Over 10,000 people were killed in 2013 in crashes that involved impairment from alcohol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The DADSS project, which Mr. Schumer highlighted in his release, is not yet available commercially. While the legislation would not mandate the technology in new automobiles, once it is available, the new law would require it for those with DWI convictions and speed up its availability to the general public. The senator is calling for $48 million in federal funding over the next six years to make it available at a cost to the public of about $150 to $200.

It uses a “non-invasive” breath-based detection system and a touch-based system to measure blood alcohol content, according to the DADSS website.

“The breath-based technology pulls the driver’s exhaled breath into a sensor which could be located in the drivers side door or in the steering column, as the driver breaths normally,” a video on the website says.

“A beam of infrared light is then directed at the molecules in the breath. Carbon dioxide and alcohol molecules absorb different amounts of light, and the sensor can compare the two, making it easy to measure alcohol levels very precisely, even in very small concentrations.”

If the system measures alcohol content above 0.08 percent, the legal limit in all 50 states, the car won’t start, the company says. The system is designed to only read the drivers’ blood alcohol content, DADSS says.

The touch-based technology reads blood alcohol level below the skin surface, the company says. Touch sensors in the car’s ignition button or in the gearshift shine a beam  of light onto a finger, and blood alcohol content can be read that way, according to DADSS.

Senator Schumer said problems with the commonly-used interlock device system— such as general maintenance costs and ways to get around it — require an upgrade in technology.

When it’s ready to go to market, people will be able to purchase the Alcohol Detection System as a safety option, much like they can do now for things like emergency brake assist or lane departure warning, DADSS says.

Photo: A memorial to the four victims of a fatal crash in Cutchogue earlier this month. The crash — in which the driver is accused by prosecutors of driving drunk — was cited by Mr. Schumer in his call for interlock devices. (Credit: Chris Lisinski)

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