back to article Soon your car won't let you drink. But it won't care if you're on the phone

Drink drivers jumping behind the wheel of a car after a boozy session at the pub might just find they are going nowhere fast, if alcohol sensor technology finally comes into play. Which it might at some point. Breath and touch-based sensors, to be used in cars to detect the amount of alcohol in the blood, are currently being …

  1. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Obviously it will be easy to circumvent, and would increase cost of new cars as well. The easiest method of circumvention being "drive an older car".

      If insurance companies are allowed to provide discounts to drivers with these, there would be an incentive to install them. Eventually they might require them for any cars someone under 18 would drive, since they are traditionally the most expensive to insure and some carriers already refuse to write policies on cars that include a teenage driver.

      While there are some obvious issues like "what if I just slammed down the rest of my one beer" or women with hairspray containing alcohol or whatever, I think this would be a good thing as a sanity check to insure you're right that you're OK to drive after you've had a couple.

      Of course the way things are going, texting/calling (whether hands free or not) are going to be causing more accidents than drunk drivers before long. Studies have shown that even hands free use is about equal to driving at the US legal limit of .08%. So if they do someday require these, I hope they also block people from using phones in any way while driving too, otherwise you are just fixing the old problem while ignoring the new one.

      1. Thorne

        "If insurance companies are allowed to provide discounts to drivers with these, there would be an incentive to install them. Eventually they might require them for any cars someone under 18 would drive, since they are traditionally the most expensive to insure and some carriers already refuse to write policies on cars that include a teenage driver."

        It's a total waste of time. By the time this gets to a usable state self drive vehicles will be available. Tech like this will only be a problem. People will try and bypass it so it will become more sensitive and then more false positives stopping sober people from driving.

        Yes I can see a drunk driver wearing a snorkel and mask driving at two am......

    2. Nigel 11

      Reliable?

      I can't believe it'll ever work reliably.

      I'm thinking, for example, of bar staff and brewery workers, who may be trying to drive home in clothing soaked to some degree with alcoholic beverage.

      Or of someone sober trying to provide a taxi service to three or four well-pickled passengers who quite responsibly *aren't* driving.

      Or what happens when an entire bottle of spirits gets accidentally soaked into a car's upholstery. Or some other organic chemical, which may turn out to register much more strongly on the detectors than Ethyl Alcohol.

      As for circumvention: as soon as it becomes known where are the sensors, the wilful drink-drivers will cover them with a suitable membrane (rubber glove or finger thereof, clingfilm, ...).

  2. Katie Saucey
    FAIL

    I don't even know where to start....

    Thank god my new car will not only check my blinds spots, park, reverse, and brake for me, it will now make legal decisions for me! I thank all the organizations involved for reminding me I'm a born criminal just waiting to offend, there's just no way I could keep myself from constantly driving drunk and mowing down children. I hope they develop sensors for my house that calls the SWAT team if I raise my voice after a drink, I could be on the verge of shooting up the neighborhood. Maybe some systems could be in place that keeps me home from work if abnormal stress is detected in the morning as well, I maybe ready to assault someone. /sarcasm

    Also what happens if the sensor is damaged/malfunctioning? I assume the by default the car would be disabled, and you're SOL in an emergency. I also assume failed attempts to start the car are logged and definitely not forwarded to your insurance company (auto and health), police and other interested parties.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So I use some Listerine just before my date, go into the car, and it refuses to start for me (the MythBusters showed using alcoholic mouthwash screws up breathalyzers). What if I'd taken NyQuil (which has alcohol in it, too)?

    1. Charles Manning

      Yup, this will be an annoyance for the sort of person that does not DUI.

      Meanwhile the habitual DUIer will keep a box of disposable gloves under the seat and know to wind down the windows before starting up.

      There really is no substitute for personal responsibility. There is no way to prevent stupid/criminal behaviour with legislation.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yep, no good for painter and decorators who have been rubbing paintwork down with meths too.

    3. sisk

      What if I'd taken NyQuil (which has alcohol in it, too)?

      Personally I'd never dream of driving after taking NyQuil.

      Well, OK I might dream about it, since dreaming is basically all I'm capable of doing about 15 minutes after taking that stuff. It's pretty much the only thing short of hospital grade anesthetics that can reliably knock me out.

  4. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Slippery Slope Indeed....

    While I think it's an interesting concept, there's the law of unintended consequences as well as human inanity.

    Mouthwash, possibly aftershaves, perfumes... lots of products with alcohol in them. How does the car know that driver is sober if they're the designated driver with a load of drunken friends? The skin sensor tech is problem with gloves and some skin conditions.

    Let's not forget that impaired drivers are not always using alcohol... there's assorted legal and illegal pharmaceuticals that are just as bad as alcohol.

    The human inanity part is politicos... you trip the sensors, the plod gets sent for your "intending to drive while intoxicated". Your insurance company will be notified. Maybe others.

    It might be better to just push on the autonomous cars although I'm not fond of that idea either since they can monitored and abused by "security" and LEA's.

    1. skeptical i
      Devil

      Re: Slippery Slope Indeed....

      re: "It might be better to just push on the autonomous cars"

      Hmmm, the possibilities are entertaining.

      If driver is drunk beyond the legal limit but generally under control, RoboCar drives home.

      Elsif driver is drunk beyond legal limit, hammered beyond comprehensibility, and acting like a total asshat, RoboCar drives to the drunk's ex's house, parks in the driveway, and plays "Jingle Bells" with the car horn.

      This could be fun.

    2. Tweetiepooh

      Re: Slippery Slope Indeed....

      I think there is the charge of Drunk in charge of a motor vehicle, you don't have to be driving, just sitting in the driver's seat can do.

      1. Nigel 11

        Re: Slippery Slope Indeed....

        you don't have to be driving, just sitting in the driver's seat can do.

        Yes, one of many moronic laws that gets coupled with Jobsworthy cops and rule-following unthinking prosecutors. Someone actually did get banned from driving for being asleep in his car in the pub car park after realizing that he was far too intoxicated to actually drive the thing.

        The law on using mobile phones is similar. I completely support throwing the book at anyone who uses their hand-held mobile while trying to control a car that's moving at significant velocity. But they've made it illegal to use your mobile to let people know why you'll be late, when you are stuck in stationary traffic on a motorway that hasn't been moving for minutes. This, even if you have turned your engine off to save fuel.

      2. Pedigree-Pete

        Re: Slippery Slope Indeed....

        You only have to be near your car with the keys to be knicked under "intent to commit an offence"

        An SA friend of mine living in the UK opted to stay home & watch Ruby ( England vs Springboks) & consequently drink, lots, whilst his wife went shopping. She returned at full time so he went to empty the car whilst she got a cupa.

        Naturally, he had the car keys & had quaffed a few.

        Plod thought it in the best public interest to try & arrest him for intent to drive whilst under the influence

        on his own driveway.

        Go figure.

  5. BobRocket

    Common sense

    If I don't know whether I've drunk too much to drive then I have.

    The penalties for driving just a little over the limit are such that it isn't worth the risk for me (so in my case they are set just right)

    The problem that these breathalysers may have is if this robot overlord allows me to drive when I'm positively blotto then who is responsible ?

    Presumably that would still be me (as I'm in control of the car) but do I have the right to claim compensation (and a 24/7 chauffer) when the gizmo gets it wrong.

    I think I'll stick to the one pint limit.

  6. dmacleo

    yay more added costs for items that will fail.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Calibration?

    I have no idea how often the intoximeters at the local cop shop need calibrating, but I suspect it's fairly regularly. Who picks up the tab for the calibration of these units? I'm guessing it won't be those that have your (and other people's) welfare at heart, yet more expense for the motorist.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Calibration?

      "I have no idea how often the intoximeters at the local cop shop need calibrating, but I suspect it's fairly regularly."

      This site would seem to agree with you.

      http://dui.findlaw.com/dui-arrests/breathalyzer-calibration.html

      Then again, in-car breathalyzers could be subject to the annual inspection just like everything else...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Calibration?

        Not every place has annual inspections. Where I live cars are never inspected, you renew your registration via mail and that's it. Other than meeting tough-than-national-requirements smog tests, I don't know why some states require it, it is a waste of money and time.

        1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

          Re: Calibration?

          I'll tell you why: to get unroadworthy vehicles off the road before they turn into deathtraps.

          1. LucreLout

            Re: Calibration?

            to get unroadworthy vehicles off the road before they turn into deathtraps

            Unfortunately it falls some way short of achieving that. Depending on where in the UK you live, every other car fails its MOT. If your car would pass, then statistically, the guy behind and the guy in front would fail. At best this gets up to around one in three cars, so either the guy in front or the guy behind has a defective vehicle. Citation in link at end.

            Defective lighting is the most common cause of failure, and yet would be so easy to police with a camera and lightbulb that I'm suprised our revenue hungry public servants haven't added another roadside tax to their schemes.

            http://good-garage-guide.honestjohn.co.uk/mot-data-the-mot-files/mot-data-by-postcode/mot-data-by-postcode-overview/

            1. David Pollard

              Re: Calibration? Public Servants?

              "... I'm suprised our revenue hungry public servants haven't added another roadside tax to their schemes."

              They have. A couple of years ago the Met took £30 on the spot when I was driving out of London. Parked up in the garage forecourt where I'd pulled in, two uniforms in a patrol car had watched me as I drove in and again as I set off. They couldn't have failed to notice that one tail light wasn't working. Nevertheless, only after I was back on the main road did they turn on the nee-nah and blue light to pull me over.

              The MOT was current for another couple of weeks, but as well as the fine they gave me a ticket forbidding the use of my van other than to drive it directly to a pre-arranged MOT. It was night-time, the van was now stopped on a main road, and they wouldn't let me reverse fifty yards to the garage or drive forward to a parking spot. As it happens, there was a flatbed vehicle recovery truck also parked in the garage, though I'm sure this was entirely coincidental.

              Thanks to a kind chap from the AA who had remarkable powers of persuasion at the local police station I was able to extricate myself from this without great expense, though I imagine many others are not so fortunate.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Calibration?

              > If your car would pass, then statistically, the guy behind and the guy in front would fail

              No it wouldn't. Independent events.

  8. smartypants

    Wake me up when my car can warn me about a stray hair

    All this alcohol sensing is well and good, but as the years roll on, my main need of an intelligent car is simply to tell me when I am in danger of leaving said vehicle with an embarrassing stray hair coming out of my nose, ear, or other odd place.

    When such a capability arises, I wish also that it is not too cruel about the warning. It must be a perfect simulation of the personal valet from the late 18th century.

    I reach for the door...

    "Sir... Would now be a good time to look in the rear-view mirror and check for misplaced threads?"

    I really don't think that works, so I would need the developers to do a bit more research into how to convey the information a lot more successfully, so that I feel like a god rather than an ageing ape.

    1. John H Woods

      Re: Wake me up when my car can warn me about a stray hair

      I thought you were worrying about a stray hair in the boot there for a minute ...

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Huh. I doubt this will be ever mandatory. So how does that work with diabetics? Where screwed up blood sugar levels CAN register as a high BAC.

  10. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    engineered cabin air flow

    WTF is that? Can it cope with open windows? Close all windows before clicking start?

  11. Graham Marsden
    Facepalm

    Isn't this about Formula One?

    Oh, sorry, that was the stock picture El Reg used last time...

    PS As regards *this* story, how long before there are people outside pubs saying "give us a tenner and I'll blow into that tube so you can drive home..."?

  12. Robert Helpmann??
    Childcatcher

    Old, old news

    This tech has been around since the 80s and is very reliable. There might be a few reasons it hasn't been installed in cars as a standard feature, though: to be useful, it should err on the side of caution, so those trying to operate vehicles with it installed should expect false positives. There might be some concerns over hygiene with the breathalyzer version for shared vehicles unless mouthpieces can be interchanged. The current approach is to have an enforced time-out period after a few failures which can leave drivers stranded if things aren't working quite right for whatever reason. Finally, with the current deplorable efforts by insurance companies to invade the last vestiges of our privacy how far behind will rate increases be for those who don't have their cars retrofitted with this tech if it becomes standard in new vehicles?

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Old, old news

      That's true... it's old tech but updated. It monitors automatically with no need to blow into a tube.

      A certain relative had to have one installed and promptly figured out how to bypass it. A simple can of compressed air.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So

    Dust masks and gloves, soon to be illegal.

  14. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

    Besides using aftershave...

    ...I also keep Alcogel in my car. My first mental image: check tyre pressure - get hands a bit dirty - clean up - touch the smart gear level or key fob or steering wheel - the car refuses to start...

  15. Tromos
    Joke

    Polo mints won't work

    The IR will get through the hole. Tape a different brand of mint over the sensor.

  16. chivo243 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Just great

    First my missus will be ragging on me about drinking too much, now my F&@k!ng car will also be getting on my case?

    1. chivo243 Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Just great

      Down Vote?

      Must be my wife, or maybe my car? It can't be the liquor store guy....

  17. bigtimehustler

    So, just open the window, or wear gloves while changing gear will no doubt fool the system. All you have to do is change the air flow in the cabin. Presumably you could also just block the sensor so its only reading the air a few cm in front of it.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    “Instead, DADSS will simply stop many responsible social drinkers who have a glass of wine with dinner from starting their cars”.

    It's the social drinking class that cant stop at "just the one" and have a "one for the road" to take them over and crash.

    Others get caught "morning after" which gets the heavier drinkers.

    Most are caught by being in an accident that was not their fault, but the fact they are over makes it their fault

    The law states how much alcohol impairs you, not how many pints you had / didn't have.

    You cant measure it by pints drunk or wine glasses, it's only a rule of thumb.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Technological solution to a social problem

    Those rarely work. In Central Europe (Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, somewhere else but don't recall where) the limit is simply zero for everyone, and drunk driving is considered socially unacceptable, so people just don't do it.

    In more individualistic societies people seem to think it's their right to drive in an altered state, which is a bit sad since roads are a public space. Perhaps that's where inventors of technological solutions see a market, seeing as there isn't one where your friends, landlord, and general public will object to your drinking and driving in the first place.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Technological solution to a social problem

      "Those rarely work. In Central Europe (Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, somewhere else but don't recall where) the limit is simply zero for everyone, and drunk driving is considered socially unacceptable, so people just don't do it."

      Perhaps, but try telling that to an Irishman, a Frenchman, a German, or an Italian, all of whom have alcohol in their traditions dating back centuries. Here the social effect is the opposite. That's one of the big reasons why Prohibition didn't work in the US. Too many immigrants and locals were so used to drinking that they basically said they'd sooner give up the government than give up their vice.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Technological solution to a social problem

        > Perhaps, but try telling that to an Irishman, a Frenchman, a German, or an Italian, all of whom have alcohol in their traditions dating back centuries.

        Yeah, totally unlike the countries mentioned above.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Technological solution to a social problem

      Comparisons with limits in other countries generally fail to include the other half of the data - the penalties, which for similar levels of intoxication can range from a fine or penalty points to long suspension of the licence (potentially causing loss of employment) or even imprisonment.

      In the UK a level of zero (meaning no more than 3-4 drinks in an evening if driving the following day) combined with the current or similar penalties will do more to wipe out pub trade than the smoking ban ever did.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Technological solution to a social problem

        > will do more to wipe out pub trade

        We better tell all those beer factories and wineries in the Czech Republic and Slovakia to close then.

  20. fjk

    How much is a life worth, a small inconvience is worth the new technology if implimented right, cell phone usage in a car is a big problem but not a reason to stop other problems

    1. BobRocket

      Life value

      'How much is a life worth'

      It is difficult to value an asset without actually trading it but...

      Around $6 million (apparently) so that means Carlos Slim can kill around 8000 with impunity (are unwilling victims worth more than willing ones ?).

  21. MissingSecurity

    I predict ...

    A court case where the driver gets off because they "couldn't possibility be drunk behind the wheel, my car allowed me to drive."

  22. Frenchie Lad

    Leaves me the only Option

    I the car won't budge due to my alcohol intake then this will leave only one other option to get high: drugs.

    What do you prefer a drunken driver or a high driver?

  23. sisk

    Isn't this technology already around? I know that around here they will sometimes require habitual drunk drivers to get a device in their car that requires them to pass a breathalyzer test before the car will start. It's been around for years. It doesn't get used terribly often because it's a whole lot cheaper to just revoke their licenses, but every once in a while they do it.

  24. nilfs2
    Pint

    What about cellphone blockers?

    I bet cellphones cause way more troubles than alcohol behind the wheel

  25. arkhangelsk

    Nice idea

    ... but why not make it some kind of Alertness Tester. It seems we think any alcohol is a sin, but tolerate fatigue or any other number of conditions that make you less than a thinking driver with adequate reactions.

    Perhaps a simple reaction test with a hard pass limit and also a soft limit (so if you are MUCH slower than you usually are, that's probably a bad sign). Or it can analyze driving inputs - if you are clearly weaving with no reason to be, the car can be stopped.

  26. Martin 37

    Mobiles vs alcohol

    If something deserves your attention, it is much quicker to stop using a phone than to sober up.

    1. nilfs2
      Holmes

      Re: Mobiles vs alcohol

      But how often and individual gets drunk and drive? let's say once or twice a week for a reckless individual; and how often an individual gets distracted by his phone behind the wheel? I would say with confidence that several times a day. It's a matter of probabilities.

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