Recently, the National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) recommended that states lower the legal limit of blood alcohol content (BAC) for drivers from 0.08 to 0.05. Could new technology aimed at preventing drunk driving save an additional 7,000 lives a year?

Bud Zaouck, leader for the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety project (DADSS), seems to think so. The 10 million dollar project, funded by the federal government and 16 major automobile makers, could potentially “create the seat belt of our generation” according to Zaouck. Although drunken driving fatalities have declined by nearly half since the 1980’s, Zaouck and his team hope that the proposed technology can prevent 70% of the yearly deaths caused by drunken driving.

“We have about 10,000 fatalities every year from drinking and driving,” explains Zaouck. “This technology could reduce 7,000 of those fatalities every year.”

The new technology could come in two forms: one touch-based approach and one breath-based approach. The touch-based approach would likely feature a sensor near the car’s start/stop button. The sensor would emit an infrared light into the driver’s fingertip and quickly calculate the blood alcohol content (BAC) in his or her tissue. If the driver’s BAC exceeds the legal limit, the car will not start. Similarly, the breath-based approach aims to cut down on drunken driving accidents by placing a mounted sensor near the car’s steering wheel. This sensor could detect the driver’s breath once he or she enters the driver’s seat of the vehicle. If the BAC on the driver’s breath exceeds the legal limit, the car will not start.

However, the proposed technology has also been met with criticism. The American Beverage Institute (ABI) strongly opposes the new technology, claiming that “there is a growing mountain of evidence showing that their (DADDS) true goal is to put alcohol-sensing technology in all cars as original equipment, set well below the 0.08 level.” The ABI is concerned that the new technology has the potential for error, thus preventing sober drivers from lawfully driving their vehicles.

Zaouck claims that DADDS does not seek to bar sober drivers from driving their vehicles. “The technology is designed for the legal limit in the United States,” he said. “Not for any less, not for anymore.”

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