Always a glutton for media attention, U.S. Senator Charles “Chuck” Ellis Schumer has involved himself in such controversial and well-covered issues as immigration reform and universal voter registration.
Schumer’s latest quest for the media lime-light includes his push for legislation “to boost alcohol-detection technology in cars, which he said could greatly reduce drunk driving — especially for repeat offenders.” [i]
According to Schumer: “Technology like this is potentially breathtaking in terms of saving lives.”[ii]
The Staten Island Real-Time News reports: “The bill, aimed at fostering research and development, looks to create a partnership between anti-drunken-driving advocates, including MADD, and car manufacturers to design devices to keep intoxicated people from getting behind the wheel.[iii]”
According to Patentstorm.us there are many such anti-drunk driving technologies in the works. For example:
Other technologies, aside from the breath analyzers, have been combined with automobile interlock systems to prevent an intoxicated person from starting a vehicle.
For example, U.S. Pat. No. 5,743,349, issued to Steinberg in 1998, includes a non-invasive reader of a person’s blood alcohol concentration in combination with ignition interlock circuitry to prevent operation of a vehicle by an intoxicated person.
The non-invasive BAC reader utilizes optical spectroscopic electromagnetic radiation to detect alcohol levels in blood. The sensor is preferably dash mounted and requires the driver to insert his or her finger into the device, and depending upon the result of the test, the operator may be instructed to wait or to find a non-impaired operator.
Similarly, U.S. Pat. No. 6,229,908, issued to Edmonds, III et al. in May 2001, discloses a vehicle interlock device that includes both a blood alcohol detector that measures intensities of wavelengths of light emerging from a finger inserted into the sensor device, as well as a fingerprint scanner, which compares the fingerprint of the user to a pre-stored image of the fingerprint of the principal driver of the vehicle. Although acceptable for testing a driver at the time of starting the vehicle, the ’349 patent is not applicable to continuous BAC testing after engine startup.
Although these aforementioned devices are a good start towards keeping impaired drivers off the road, they fail in several regards. Whether the BAC sensor is a breath analyzer or an optical spectroscopic reader, they all require some positive action by the driver, thereby limiting it to discontinuous operation, once at engine startup, and then randomly during operation of the vehicle.
A technology that offers an alternative approach to non-invasive detection of BAC, as well as continuous BAC testing, is based upon the knowledge that alcohol is eliminated from the body by two mechanisms: metabolism and excretion. Metabolism accounts for greater than 90% of ingested alcohol and occurs principally in the liver. The remaining 10% of ingested alcohol is excreted, unchanged, wherever water is removed from the body, including breath, urine, perspiration, and saliva. The excreted alcohol is significant because it can be measured and correlated to a person’s BAC.
U.S. Pat. No. 5,944,661, issued to Swette et al. in 1999, discloses an electrochemical sensor that continuously measures very low concentrations of ethanol vapor at the surface of the skin, as well as skin properties, such as temperature and ionic conductance.
Similarly, Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor.RTM. (SCRAM.RTM.), manufactured by Alcohol Monitoring Systems, Inc., is a non-invasive alcohol-detection system that automatically tests for blood alcohol content (BAC) by monitoring transdermal alcohol present in insensible perspiration, which is the constant, unnoticeable excretion of sweat through the skin. SCRAM.RTM. measures the concentration of ethanol (a byproduct of alcohol consumption) in perspiration, in order to determine a person’s BAC.[iv]
Schumer intends to jump-start these technologies using government money to the tune of 12 Million per year. However, not everyone is pleased with Schumer’s bill. The American Beverage Institute criticized the legislation, saying the devices should be kept to vehicles of repeat drunken driving offenders and not be mandated in vehicles as standard equipment, although the legislation does not include such a mandate. It also argued that the devices could keep people from driving even if their blood alcohol level is less than the limit for drunken driving, such as after having a drink at a restaurant.[v]
Much has been previously written about the promise of technology in ending drunk driving, and about many of the problems inherent in such attempts. For example, see:
[i] According to: , TIMES WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, FRIDAY, MAY 28, 2010
[iii]According to: Judy L. Randall , June 04, 2010, 6:28AM
[v] Washington Daily Times.com, May 28, 2010.