RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Could a blood alcohol test be required to start your car? A new technology to prevent drunk driving is being developed and tested in Virginia.
The companies involved, including Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, said the new technology holds the key to eliminating driving under the influence of alcohol. They add there hasn’t been an invention since the seat belt that will save as many lives, until now.
A simple breath test could be needed to crank up your car soon. Virginia is taking the lead on a new alcohol detection technology, called DADSS — Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety Program.
State DMV Commissioner Richard Holcomb spearheaded the technology for the Commonwealth, wanting the state to get on board. He told 8News Virginia is the first state to test the tech.
“This is life-changing,” Holcomb said. “This is really life-saving technology.
The breath-test technology is expected to save 9,000 lives across the country each year. According to the DMV, in 2020 Virginia saw over 6,000 alcohol-related crashes with 272 deaths.
“You may have gone out and had a cocktail and think, am I safe? should I be driving? should I call an Uber? this is going to take the doubt out,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb, along with the state, has allocated resources for technology and partnered with James River Transportation in 2018, becoming the first in the country to test the technology in light passenger vehicles. Now, the technology is taking the next step in being on the market, collaborating with notable trucking company Schneider.
On Wednesday, truck driver Brad Blackwood tested out the technology, blowing into designated sensors. If a driver blows below the legal limit the technology turns green. However, if the driver blows over the legal limit the technology turns red and the car will not move.
The applicable legal limit for operators of commercial motor vehicles is 0.04%. The applicable limit for operators of privately owned light cars and trucks aged 21 years and older is 0.08%. There is a zero-tolerance limit for operators under the age of 21.
In 2022, eight Schneider cabs will be equipped with the new technology in a trial phase of development. Trucks are being used right now because they rack up more miles and travel in all conditions, which is needed to test the devices.
“They’re experiencing all of the weather conditions from all across the country. Hot, cold, high altitude, and low altitude. Potholes too,” said Rob Strassburger, C.E.O/President of Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, Inc. “We want to pound the devices and test them to make sure they work in all conditions.”
8News visited a local rest area to see how drivers feel about the new technology. Mickey Thomas drives a big rig and welcomes the breath test.
“I drive anywhere down from New Jersey to North Carolina,” Thomas said. “I think it’d be a good thing if it’s going to cut down on deaths on the highway.”
Carlos Duque drives a pick-up truck and feels the same.
“My first thought is ‘it’s great. It’s going to save lives,’” Duque said. “My second thought is ‘great, it’s going to come out of my pocket. How much is it going to cost?’”
One question looming is if the technology could raise the cost of cars. Strassburger said they are working with manufacturers to keep costs low, but ultimately it will be in the hands of the car company.
The breath test is still being developed, but if all testing goes according to plan the new technology could be in vehicles starting in 2024.