How Technology Can Help Prevent Drunk Driving

Mike Adkins
M. Adkins|01.02.17

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Mike Adkins
January 2, 2017 2:41 PM
Drunk driving is a major cause of accidents in the United States today. This time of the year is statistically the worst in terms of fatal accidents due to drunk driving, presumably due to all the holiday parties. Over the years, many solutions have been proposed to help prevent drunk driving. Some of these are legal in nature. For example, to have more DUI check points, or to provide for stiffer penalties when someone is caught driving under the influence. Interestingly, many organizations have also attempted to address the problem using technology. Due to the huge rise in the use of smartphones, tech companies are pushing more than ever before to develop technological solutions to combat the problems with drunk driving.

One technological phenomenon that has helped tremendously with drunk driving is Uber, the ridesharing app. Founded in 2009, Uber has made the use of a personalized cab much more affordable and convenient. In the past, when an intoxicated person would leave the bar, he would have a strong incentive to drive, because he did not have $30-$40 to pay a taxi to take him home. In addition, since he drove to the bar and left his car on the street, he would want to drive because of the possibility of getting towed overnight. Uber solved all of those problems. With just a few taps on your phone, you can now order a taxi to pick you up within a few minutes, at any time of the day. Stand outside a busy bar on a Saturday night, and you will see multiple Uber cars pull up to drive customers home. It is an enjoyable experience observing the Uber cars, knowing that a fatal crash may have just been prevented.

There are also apps that can detect when a person is too intoxicated to drive. One example is Breathometer, a free app that's available for Anroid and iOS. The app uses an external device that connects to the user's headphone jack, and when the user blows into the device, their BAC is measured. The app also has other features. For example, it lets the user call taxi service, or find a nearby hotel to crash. Alcohoot is another similar app that needs an external device to work. Similar to Breathometer, the user blows into the device and measures their BAC. This one also integrates with Uber and Lyft. However, the efficacy of these apps in preventing drunk driving is controversial. There is an argument that if a person's judgment is too impaired to drive, then they are not going to know to use the app. However, there was a study that seemed to negate this notion. It appears that such apps do help to a certain extent.

Various firms have also been working hard to develop a wearable biosensor to detect blood alcohol levels. Engineers at the University of California, San Diego have designed a tattoo-looking biosensor which would detect the amount of alcohol in the one's blood using their sweat. The information would then be sent to the person's smartphone via Bluetooth to let them know when they are too intoxicated to drive.

More recently, researchers in Israel have designed a virtual breathalyzer to test whether someone is intoxicated, and to what degree, using their cell phone. The idea is that when a person is drunk, their movements will be different from a normal person and these movements can be tracked and measured using a mobile device's motion sensors. The researchers claim this test is highly accurate, and it can detect a drunk individual with an accuracy of 93%, as measured against standard DUI tests used by the police.

Because the technology is too new, law enforcement has yet to address how the use of apps will be implemented to prevent drunk driving. One day though, cars may have the capability to communicate with mobile phones to prevent an intoxicated person from even starting their car. Until then, a drunk driver is free to drive, no matter how much their mobile phone begs them to just take Uber.
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