Exciting new developments in the world of tech and innovation could soon have a far-reaching and positive impact on UK roads, which according to figures recently released by the government’s Department of Transport, saw over 220 fatal accidents occur as a result of drink driving in 2014. Although these numbers have fallen from those of the last two decades (averaging in the region of 480 between 1990 and 2006), there is still much to be done to limit drink driving and improve public safety. Enter the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The US experiences around 10,000 drink drive-related fatalities annually, so the incentive is high for solutions to be found to a chronic problem that causes a death on highways and roads every 53 minutes. As a result, the NHTSA has invested in some exciting innovations that could have a profound effect on some of those frightening statistics, linking up with car manufacturers to help innovate two ways of automatically detecting alcohol in drivers without them having to behave differently in any way, such as actively give a breath, blood, or urine sample.

The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) includes a breathalyser that can be mounted to the driver’s wheel and can accurately read breath alcohol levels as soon as the driver is sat in the driver’s seat. The device achieves this by being able to monitor concentrations of ethanol vapour in the air. If you are over the limit, the breathalyser will recognise this and automatically disable the car.

Also, the NHTSA has helped develop an infrared light system that can – most impressively – detect the quantity of alcohol in your blood, or blood alcohol concentration (BAC) – but how? The system relies on the fact that ethanol changes how infrared light is absorbed or reflected by body tissue. By shining a light onto the driver, a spectroscope reads how that light is reflected back. The machine uses a range of wavelengths to assess what contaminants on the body could interfere with the complex data, takes into account the various effects of different skin type, thickness, bone and other information, and then makes a series of statistically based calculations to finally decide if you are over the limit or not. Connected to a start button, the system will prevent the engine from being turned on if the driver’s BAC is found to be in excess of the established threshold.

With Toyota also researching similar areas of technology, a compelling solution may be just around the corner to a problem that, to varying degrees, affects just about every country in the world. Of course, the only real answer to preventing drunk driving accidents is to simply avoid the consumption of alcohol if you know that you are going to drive, but until every last person starts taking notice of the inherent dangers of drink driving, these smart solutions may be able to save dozens if not hundreds and even thousands of lives every year throughout the UK and beyond.

Sam Abrahams

This article was written by Sam Abrahams on behalf of DFR Solicitors, the specialist drink driving solicitors.