Connecticut DOT gets vehicles that prevent drunk driving

Carmakers and the federal government are helping develop the new technology. It will be standard in all new cars within the next decade.

John Craven

Sep 29, 2023, 9:31 PM

Updated 207 days ago

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Connecticut has some of the deadliest roads in the nation, but the state has a new tool to – literally – prevent drunk driving. The Connecticut Department of Transportation is getting six vehicles that will not operate when a driver is above the legal alcohol limit.
Carmakers and the federal government are helping develop the new technology. It could be standard in all new cars within the next decade.
‘MY SON DIED’
Stephen Panus helped DOT unveil the new technology at Fairfield Ludlowe High School on Friday. Panus’ son, Jake, was a rising junior there.
“Jake was a supreme, outgoing individual who loved life,” said Panus.
A drunk driver took Jake’s life during a beach vacation in 2020.
“She had been drinking,” he said. “She went off the road, and my son died.”
TECHNOLOGY SOLUTION
The technology is called Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, or “DADSS.” It’s a partnership between states, the automotive industry and the federal government.
“DADSS technology is designed to passively detect a driver's blood alcohol content and to prevent the vehicle from moving,” said George Bishop, with the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, which represents the world’s major car manufacturers.
A tiny sensor behind the steering wheel detects alcohol on your breath as soon as you get in the car. Bud Zaouk, DADSS’ technical manager, demonstrated it for students.
“What you'll see on the screen is the red dots, which represent all the alcohol molecules,” he said.
Eventually, the equipment will come with all new cars, but Connecticut’s DOT is getting six of them now for testing. The “Driven to Protect” vehicles will also go around the state, so people can see the technology for themselves.
DOT will take one of the cars to Saturday’s UConn football game.
“People who have had something to drink can get in there, breathe normally, and the iPad's going to show us what their BAC is,” said DOT Commissioner Garrett Eucalitto.
POTENTIAL PITFALLS?
The technology has already been studied in a lab, where its accuracy is matched with blood tests, and on test tracks.
Sensors are programmed to ignore things like mouthwash and hand sanitizer, which do not impair a driver. Zaouk also insisted DADSS only works on the driver – not intoxicated passengers.
“A passenger's breath is very diluted by the time it makes it to the sensor,” he said. “It doesn't see it.”
DADSS should be ready for automobile manufacturers by 2025, Zaouk said. After that, carmakers will do several years of their own testing before adding it to new vehicle.
‘GREAT HOPE’
For Panus, coming back to his son’s old campus was difficult.
“There's a plaque of my son by the back of the school,” he said.
But Panus said getting the word out about the DADSS system is worth it.
“I think it gives great hope, because I don't want to see another family suffer like we have,” he said.


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