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Transportation Technology

Sensor Measures In Fingertips If Driver Is Drunk 549

Hugh Pickens writes writes "The Economic Times reports on the first working prototypes of a new technology that would measure blood alcohol content in a driver's fingertips, using sophisticated touch-based sensors situated in steering wheels and door locks and engineers say that unlike court-ordered breath-analyzer ignition locks, which require a driver to blow into a tube and wait a few seconds for the result, their systems will analyze a driver's blood-alcohol content in less than one second. Anti-drunken driving crusaders believe that almost 9,000 road traffic deaths could be prevented every year if alcohol detection devices were used in all vehicles to prevent alcohol-impaired drivers from driving their vehicles. 'We believe this might turn the car into the cure for the elimination of drunk driving,' says Laura Dean-Mooney, president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. But not everyone is enamored of the device which could be available to automakers in eight to 10 years. 'For ordinary, law-abiding citizens, it's an invasion of their privacy,' says Christen Varley, president of the Greater Boston Tea Party."
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Sensor Measures In Fingertips If Driver Is Drunk

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  • Its Winter. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by icebike ( 68054 ) on Sunday January 30, 2011 @04:58PM (#35050534)

    My fingers get cold. I drive with gloves, at least till the car warms up.
    I imagine drunk drivers would do the same.

    • Re:Its Winter. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Sunday January 30, 2011 @05:36PM (#35050790) Homepage Journal

      Wear glove, then you don't get to drive your car. Its not like they really give a damn if you are cold or not. They want to invade your privacy and control your daily life, at all costs.

      • by s73v3r ( 963317 )

        Is it really an invasion of privacy if no one else is notified of it? It doesn't report you to the authorities, it just stops the engine from starting. I agree there are other problems with the system, but privacy is not one of them.

    • Agree. This is stupid, because gloves exist and people often wear them while driving.

      Also, this eliminates drunk driving how? I find it useful to point out that another word for "elimination" is "shitting". Are they shitting us? They've got to be.

      In conclusion, I would like to feed your fingertips to the wolverines. Thankyouveddymuch.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If you want to end drunk driving, then it'd help to have actual public transportation that doesn't cost an arm and a leg and is readily available in most areas. Cabs are ridiculously expensive, buses and light rails are only in metro areas.

      • by icebike ( 68054 )

        Providing public transportation "readily available in most areas" is the perfect definition of "costing an arm and a leg".
        This only works in dense urban areas.

  • by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Sunday January 30, 2011 @04:59PM (#35050536) Journal

    Problem solved. The marijuana/cocaine/etc ban makes it illegal to imbibe these substances. So let's just do the same with alcohol, and all our problems will disappear. No more drunks == no more drunk driving.

    I'm being sarcastic.

    • by theaveng ( 1243528 ) on Sunday January 30, 2011 @05:01PM (#35050556)

      Problem solved. The marijuana/cocaine/etc ban makes it illegal to imbibe these substances. So let's just do the same with alcohol, and all our problems will disappear. No more drunks == no more drunk driving.

      I'm being sarcastic.

      I certainly hope so. People should be able to put anything they want into their bodies, upto and including cyanide. Else they are not truly free.

      Deal with the abuse of the drugs (DUI) not the banning of them, or alcohol.

      • by jdpars ( 1480913 )
        I wish you many angry replies, good troll.
      • I want to put you inside my body.

      • by tgeller ( 10260 )

        Deal with the abuse of the drugs (DUI) not the banning of them, or alcohol.

        That's exactly what this invention does. I'm for it.

        Driving while drunk is against the law: If you're drunk and you turn the key, you have broken the law. This invention determines whether you are currently breaking the law, not whether you're likely to do so, or have done so in the past.

        The "privacy" argument would only make sense if you believe that the actions you take with your car are your own, private business. Considering that they travel on public roads, I disagree with that belief, and frankly find

        • by DudeTheMath ( 522264 ) on Sunday January 30, 2011 @09:33PM (#35052478) Homepage

          I made this point in response to someone else, but: Alcohol impairs response time (and judgment, to some extent, but response time most of all). We had been nearly parked in during a Christmas party: My (entirely sober) wife was unwilling to attempt extraction, but understanding alcohol impairment, was happy to let me pull our car out of its parking place. I did so, then turned the driver's seat over to her. With the article's alcohol detection system in place, I would not have been able to drive at all, not even in a private drive (where we'd been parked); it couldn't know "public roads" (your term) from the private drive, where I endangered no one.

  • 10 years? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 30, 2011 @05:00PM (#35050552)

    If cars are still able to be crashed in 10 years, I think something has gone wrong. Isn't the real solution to drunk driving to get rid of all people controlled driving? That could be the great selling point of more automated cars: "Feel free to drive home drunk."

    • by icebike ( 68054 )

      To error is human.
      To really foul things up, you need a computer.

    • Yet we have been expecting self-driving cars since the 70's. Man is driven by the irrational fear of being not in control. Our minds are programed to think we can do better for ourselves than relying on another to not screw up.

      Self driving cars = public transit. I highly doubt we will see self driving cars for individuals for at least another 50 years.

      • by sznupi ( 719324 )
        Don't forget to mention: 80+% of drivers think they are in the top half (also: "anybody faster than me is a moron; anybody driving faster - a maniac")
      • Yet we have been expecting self-driving cars since the 70's... I highly doubt we will see self driving cars for individuals for at least another 50 years.

        I'm not so sure that it will be as long as you think -- the tech was a long way off in the 70's but it is very close to solid enough. It just needs to be cleaned up and implemented. Hell, it is already being implemented in the self-parking cars and the intelligent cruise control. There will be some resistance to self-driving cars, but I think that the results will speak for themselves very shortly after they are implemented.

  • 'For ordinary, law-abiding citizens, it's an invasion of their privacy,' says Christen Varley, president of the Greater Boston Tea Party."

    Provided it's between you and the car that the car refused to transport you because you were drunk, that isn't an invasion of privacy.

    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      If it is put into every car, and mandated for use, then it is an invasion of privacy. It is prior restraint which is frowned upon by liberals except in the case of those sad little excuse for weapons the conservatives are always ranting about, and by conservatives except in the case of publishing embarrassing facts about other conservatives.

      But if one is convicted of drunk driving, then it is not so much a invasion of privacy as much as security theater. The appropriate penalty for drunk driving is temp

  • on the house door knob or car door handle so you can us from ourselves.

  • DUI Hysteria (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) * on Sunday January 30, 2011 @05:05PM (#35050590)
    For sure, deaths as a result drunk driving are both preventable and tragic.

    But folks, let's have some perspective with the hysteria: 9000 death a year are in fact one of the smaller numbers in the world of preventable deaths.

    The hysteria far outweighs the threat, much like TSA and air travel.
    • by sl149q ( 1537343 )

      Yes, but, there are 9000 est. deaths a year...

      Which is FAR FAR FAR more than the number of deaths you can attribute to terrorists ....

      Hysteria certainly describes TSA and Homeland security.

      Given the resources being allocated to reducing drunk driving (compared to TSA and Homeland security) I'd say it is better spent.

      Most likely though at this point it would not be unreasonable to start looking at just making all cars and passengers safer regardless of whether there is any alcohol involved as there are more

    • Re:DUI Hysteria (Score:5, Informative)

      by Mashiki ( 184564 ) <> on Sunday January 30, 2011 @05:37PM (#35050800) Homepage

      You can blame an organization that started good, and went bad for this problem. They're called MADD. Even police hate dealing with them these days they're down right bat shit insane.

    • Re:DUI Hysteria (Score:4, Interesting)

      by kemapa ( 733992 ) * on Sunday January 30, 2011 @05:57PM (#35050996) Journal

      Indeed, the hysteria surrounding intoxicated driving seems to outweigh the threat. As you mentioned, the number of yearly deaths attributable to intoxicated driving is a drop in the preventable death bucket. However, several (but not all) of the other types of preventable death are brought upon oneself, such as death from prolonged tobacco smoking. With intoxicated driving the victim is not necessarily the intoxicated individual, it can be a passenger or another driver/pedestrian. Those individuals often have families, which introduces a very emotional and tragic aspect to preventable death by an intoxicated driver. That's why you have such powerful lobbying groups like MADD, which leads to (in my opinion) overzealous pursuit of intoxicated drivers and the prevention of intoxicated driving.

      It would be refreshing if some of the more substantial causes of preventable death received the same attention and lobbying.

    • Re:DUI Hysteria (Score:4, Insightful)

      by willy_me ( 212994 ) on Sunday January 30, 2011 @06:14PM (#35051128)

      But those 9000 deaths a year are distributed across the entire demographic of people. The common cold might kill more people each year but if those people were all over 90, it really is not as bad. As it stands, automobile accidents are the number 1 cause of death for people in their 20s. Not all of these deaths are alcohol related, but many are. I have personally known people who have died in the following ways:

      1 - avoiding an animal (or so we assume)
      2 - due to being intoxicated
      1 - hit by a train - alcohol a likely factor
      2 - oncoming incapacitated driver - likely fell asleep at the wheel

      So of the 5 fatal accidents, 3 have been related to alcohol, 1 related to incapacitated driver, 1 unavoidable accident.

      I do not think that sensors present in steering wheels will work, but trying to find ways to curb those 9000 deaths/year is a good idea. Comparing this to the hysteria of air travel / TSA is ridiculous - we are talking about two very different scales.

  • by msgmonkey ( 599753 ) on Sunday January 30, 2011 @05:05PM (#35050596)

    Call me stupid but how is this an invasion of privacy, it's not like information regarding your drunkenness is being passed over to the authorities.

    Mark Hinkle, chairman of the Libertarian National Committee, fears the devices could evolve like seat belts — introduced as voluntary safety features that become lawfully enforced.

    Oh yes those evil seat belts made mandatory because they save peoples lives, damn evil big government regulating car safety . Has it come to the point where there has to be a knee-jerk reaction to everything just for the sake of it?

    • by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Sunday January 30, 2011 @05:34PM (#35050764) Journal

      Oh yes those evil seat belts made mandatory because they save peoples lives, damn evil big government regulating car safety . Has it come to the point where there has to be a knee-jerk reaction to everything just for the sake of it?

      People get bitter when laws start going down the slippery slope.
      In 32 States, driving without a seat belt is a primary offense.
      In how many of those States do you think people were told upfront that the law would eventually become a primary offense?

      • You've gotta love the USA:

        "I demand my right to needlessly die if I am involved in a car accident!"

    • Don't these libertarian people deny evolution? Weren't we (and seat belts) always like we are now?
  • by RightwingNutjob ( 1302813 ) on Sunday January 30, 2011 @05:06PM (#35050600)
    This is taking the entirely wrong approach here. The thing I never quite understood about ignition interlocks is why repeat DUI offenders are even allowed to drive a car at all. If after $N_MAX_OFFENSES you still can't control yourself, I don't trust you with a car, period. What this idea says is that because we've decided in giving an infinite number of second chances to the small fraction of the population that can't realistically be expected to act responsibly on their own, we're now going to impose an expensive mandatory new toy on everyone else, out of their pockets, and if the thing screws up and gives a false alarm, too bad.

    If the court can order you to pay for an ignition interlock after a DUI, then it can sure as hell order you to sell your car, period.
    • Absolutely. Drunk driving isn't close to the leading cause of preventable deaths, but I think that it's rather easily preventable. Just man up and institute real penalties for that. First offense, considerable fine, second time, permanent revocation of driving license.

      I don't get the apparent sympathy towards drunk drivers. It's easy not to drive drunk. People who can't control themselves and do drive drunk are a danger, and need to be treated accordingly, as in not letting them drive. I'm aware that there

      • The apparent sympathy is due in part to the fact that the legal limits are very low. A man who splits a bottle of wine with his wife at dinner may very well have a BAC above 0.08%, but very few people would consider the guy drunk at the time. In addition, there is no legal distinction made between someone with a BAC of 0.10% (who would have been a legal driver at the dawn of the DUI age thirty years ago, when the first limits were set around 0.15%) and someone with a BAC of 0.30% (who is a menace to society
        • I may not have the best perspective here, as someone who doesn't drive, but why would you want even someone with a BAS of 0.08% at the wheel? The effects do vary greatly per person, but 0.08% is enough for many people to affect attention span and fine muscle coordination. That's already a person that is not at their best capacity due to alcohol.

          At least in the local news I get, drunk drivers tend not to be chronic drunks, but rather people who had a few drinks at a party or such and believed themselves to b

          • Excellent point. In places like Sweden (I think), it's illegal to drive with the flu, because it's proven that they have reaction times more sluggish than even drunk drivers with a BAC of 0.08%

          • I'm sure that a 0.08% BAC does decrease coordination and attention, but so do many, many other things. Like being a little bit tired. Or being pissed about that fight you had with your girlfriend. There does need to be a reasonable distinction between people that are barely over the limit and the guys that need to be carried to their car because they cannot walk straight.
          • by sjames ( 1099 )

            You can play the game of perfection, but you'll then have to specify no driving right after a meal, nor too close to bed time, nor too soon after getting up. Certainly no driving after getting really upsetting news. After all, why would I want people driving if they're even the tiniest bit off of their peak performance?

            The old standard of 0.12 was set based on advice from experts as to what level would have a significant (as in measurable) impact on driving performance.

            Many people (diabetics for example) wi

    • Perfect solution -- I mean, it's not like they could borrow a car, or have one registered in someone else's name. Oh, wait...
      • Around here first DUI offense is ~$1000 + licence revoked for six months; repeat offense is 10-15 days in jail + confiscation of car + permanent revocation of driving licence.

        When it was implemented a few years ago, it really did wonders in changing the attitude of people I know.

    • by karnal ( 22275 )

      I have a more personal account of someone who had an interlock on their car and has flown right - mostly due to life changes and learning that drinking and driving affects more than just their life. The interlock devices can save lives - but them alone won't teach someone that drinking and driving is wrong.

      And let's face it - most places in the USA you NEED a car to get to work at the very least. It's either that or you go the other route and just drive illegally (i.e. no insurance, no license, car not re

  • Can we try that first?

  • by iamnotaclown ( 169747 ) on Sunday January 30, 2011 @05:25PM (#35050702)

    Driving drunk is already against the law. If someone decides to drive drunk, bypassing a sensor is the least of their concerns.

    • You're missing the point. Due to the nature of drunk driving a lot of the people who commit it aren't aware that they're impaired. This could prevent someone who is black-out drunk from climbing into their car and driving into traffic.

  • by grimsnaggle ( 1320777 ) on Sunday January 30, 2011 @05:25PM (#35050704)

    Stuff happens, people die. One of my best friends in high school was killed when his car was hit by a drunk. To me, I'd rather the drunk lost his license rather than my car fitted with an interlock. I don't even drink, why should I have to pay for someone else's irresponsibility?

    Measures like this are a waste of everyone's resources that distract from more serious problems - broken education, declining scientific investment, an uncompetitive economy, etc.

  • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Sunday January 30, 2011 @05:31PM (#35050736)

    If your society needs to rely on electronic gadgets in cars to prevent drunk drivers, you're fucked. "Mind if I pass you, Lindsay Lohan, you are swerving on the highway? Oh, look, Charlie Sheen has passed out on the side of the road again."

    In the country where I live, kids can drink alcoholic beverages when they are 16. But they are taught not to drink and drive. You will see a table with a bunch of teenage guys quaffing beers. And one guy will be drinking Coca-Cola. Guess who is driving.

    To hammer the point home again, teaching people not to drink and drive is better than any control mechanism.

  • I mistrust MADD (Score:5, Informative)

    by mbone ( 558574 ) on Sunday January 30, 2011 @05:39PM (#35050822)

    I flat-out mistrust MADD, which is always on the side of more police power. They are to the traffic police what child pornography is to Internet regulation.

    • That's a mischaracterization. They are only on the side of more police power in terms of drunk driving. It's a very limited subset of traffic law. They don't really care about warrants to search your trunk etc. let alone the rest of the police actions.

  • So, will there be some kind of "override" for dangerous situations? Like, I do not PLAN on driving that day, so I have a beer or two and am just over the limit where the car won't start anymore, but then suddenly space aliens with anal probes arrive and I *really* need to drive away fast - but the car won't let me.

    Or any other, more real life situation - say, you THINK you're still under the limit, on the way to your car you get assaulted by some criminal, you just make it to your car and want to get away,

  • by couchslug ( 175151 ) on Sunday January 30, 2011 @06:07PM (#35051068)

    Preventive measures that encumber everyone are merely a PC effort to avoid punishing the guilty.

    DUI should carry a one-year mandatory jail sentence. Don't want to get busted? Don't fucking drink and drive.

    As I used to tell my military motorcycle safety classes:

    "I might drink 'til it runs out my ears, but I don't drive until I'm sober and alert. Party at the house, take everyone's keys, and we won't be going to a memorial service for a dead drunk or the people they kill."

  • by Seumas ( 6865 ) on Sunday January 30, 2011 @06:32PM (#35051280)

    Don't let them bullshit you for one second that the value of lives is at all relevant to them, here. The motivating factor is the value of the government contracts that will be handed out should this idea succeed. The same kind of contracts that benefit certain industries if we fall for the idea that we should stick everyone under house arrest and fit them with an electronic bracelet for even the slightest crime (and, of course, people will think that's a tremendous idea if the alternative is jail time).

    The result is an enormous revenue stream. Every single person in this country convicted of some sort of a violation (in this case, we'll just stick to alcohol related) fitted with an expensive device for an additional expensive installation fee. Then their car, fitted with an expensive device and another expensive installation fee. Then expensive monthly subscriptions (paid out of the individual's pocket) for monitoring and maintenance. If you don't have the money or you find it an abhorrent solution, then you can always opt not to participate and not pay all of that money. Of course, then we're going to lock you up in prison for a year. So it's not like we're not giving you freedom of choice!

    If they REALLY gave a fuck about preventing lives, the solution wouldn't involve ridiculously complex and expensive monitoring and fittings and equipment farmed out to private industry. The solution would be that if you are convicted of driving drunk, your license would be revoked for the rest of your life and if you still put society in danger by driving without a license, then we stick you in prison.

  • by Ellis D. Tripp ( 755736 ) on Sunday January 30, 2011 @06:47PM (#35051386) Homepage

    What about those people who are constantly using those alcohol-based hand sanitizer products? Will their car assume that they are drunk and refuse to start?

    • I really doubt this is based on alcohol on your hands. I don't know you, but when I drink my beer, I rarely get some on my fingers.

      • The sensors I am aware of detect minute amounts of alcohol which diffuse out of the bloodstream and through your epidermis. The actual sensor technology can be a self-generating fuel cell (like a flammable gas detector), or an optical absorption type affair, but both would be equally disrupted by surface contamination with alcohol.

  • by Bob9113 ( 14996 ) on Sunday January 30, 2011 @07:58PM (#35051902) Homepage

    >> Anti-drunken driving crusaders believe that almost 9,000 road traffic deaths could be prevented every year if alcohol detection devices were used in all vehicles to prevent alcohol-impaired drivers from driving their vehicles.

    How to Measure Anything [] is an awesome book.

    43,443 deaths from traffic accidents in 2005 (the worst year in the past 20). To prevent 9,000, one in five traffic fatalities would have to be due to alcohol impairment and be prevented by the system.

    That may be true, I don't have the stats handy for a more precise measurement.

    We must also consider cost. There are three hundred million people in the united states. If one in three have access to a car, and on average those one in three start their car once every three days (call it 100 starts per year on average), that equals (300m / 3) * 100, or ten billion starts per year.

    The value of a human life (according to wrongful death suits) is about $25m. Very rough guess, of course.

    What is the cost of you car failing to start? Something more than a dollar and less than -- maybe $100 -- on average. Wild-assed guess range there, so I made it broad.

    250m vehicles on the road, 10 years median age, 25m new cars per year.

    Device cost $25 - $100. Guessing, should be in there, including sensor, interlock, maintenance, and engineering it into the system -- once production ramps up.

    9,000 deaths (perhaps an overestimate, probably not an underestimate, IMO)
    10b starts per year
    Start value range $1-$100
    $25m value per life
    25m vehicles per year.
    Device cost $25 - $100 per unit.

    $25m per life times 10k lives (rounding up) = $250b per year.

    25m devices times $25 - $100 = $625m - $2.5b per year.

    So the device cost portion is essentially inconsequential.

    10b starts * {$1 - $100} per start = $10b - $1t start value per year.

    {$10b - $1t} / $25b = 0.4 to 4.

    Even if you assume $100 value per start, the device only has to make the right decision 3 out of 4 times to be worth it.

    When I started this calculation, I was expecting to show numbers clearly opposed to this obvious infringement of personal liberty. I don't like the answer, but it is what it is. These numbers could be off. Given the spin I wanted to put on it, I intentionally edged the numbers in favor of the devices to mitigate the risk of being considered a charlatan.

    Based on this rough calculation, it looks like the pure economic case for the devices might hold water.

  • by Wansu ( 846 ) on Sunday January 30, 2011 @09:03PM (#35052304)

    MADD's goal is prohibition. Along the way they make alliances with politicians and companies eager to manufacture devices like this. If they succeed in getting this crap mandated on all cars, clever drunks will circumvent it and less technologically savvy teetotalers will find themselves unable to drive once these sensors fail. Just look at all the O2 sensor failures. This one will fail too and likely be expensive to replace. Maybe this is what it will take to turn the public against MADD. Go for it MADD. Hike up the cost and failure rate of cars.

Help! I'm trapped in a PDP 11/70!