Everyone knows DUI’s are dangerous and potentially deadly. Public service campaigns, driver education and strict DUI laws haven’t eradicated them from our roadways. Two years ago we asked whether technology could reduce driving under the influence and recent legislation proposed in Washington D.C. would require impairment sensing technology for new motor vehicles. Perhaps these technologies will succeed where prior attempts to end DUI have failed.

One technology that could keep vehicles from being driven if you’re impaired by alcohol uses transdermal or through the skin alcohol testing. Essentially, the driver would grip the steering wheel and tiny holes in the steering wheel cover would check for alcohol emitting from your skin before the car starts. This might be a good place to start, but it’s important to remember you can be driving under the influence of more than just alcohol.

A different technology that might detect the presence of central nervous system depressants, like alcohol or sedatives, before driving would check the driver’s eyes before starting the engine. This sounds similar to the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Field Sobriety Test (HGN), which has been used by law enforcement to check for DUI for decades. The HGN test looks for muscle twitches when your eyes move side to side. These twitches could indicate the presence of alcohol or other CNS depressants. Perhaps a camera could check for this twitching before allowing the vehicle to start. One problem with this method is that other conditions besides drug impairment can cause this twitching and could lead to a perfectly sober person not being able to start their own car.

Another technology being researched is based on infrared spectroscopy, which is one of the methods used in Washington State evidentiary breath alcohol content (BAC) tests. This method uses an infrared “flashlight” shining through the driver’s fingertip. If alcohol is present in the driver’s blood, those alcohol molecules block the infrared light from passing through the driver’s finger. The less light that passes through, then higher the driver’s blood alcohol content. Just like the steering wheel technology mentioned above, this method would only check for alcohol, but maybe that’s the best place to start this particular safety campaign.

Safer roadways have been the goal of public service campaigns, law enforcement and tough DUI laws for decades. Maybe these driver impairment detection technologies could make traveling on our roadways a little bit safer.