People convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol (especially repeat offenders) have often been required, as part of their sentences, to install clunky alcohol ignition-interlock systems in their cars that will refuse to start the car if alcohol is detected on the driver’s breath. But such systems are expensive and cumbersome to use, which limits the widespread adoption of such a detection system.Gone are the days of puffing into the little balloon, if the clever engineers at Toyota have their way. They’ve developed sensors on the steering wheel that can detect alcohol in a driver’s bloodstream by analyzing the sweat coming out of the driver’s fingers. Too much alcohol in the blood? The car won’t start, then.
And, lest you think that the steering wheel is the only trick up the Toyota boffins’ sleeve, the engineers have also allowed the system to engage if it detects what it considers “abnormal steering” or if the driver’s pupils are not in focus. If any of those events occur, the car will be slowed to a stop.
Recent drunk-driving accidents in Japan have caused concern in that country over intoxicated drivers, which may have prompted Toyota and other Japanese manufacturers to look into a solution for this problem. Toyota says that it anticipates putting this system into place into its cars by the end of 2009 (although in which particular cars or in which countries besides Japan this feature will be offered is not known yet).
Our take? It will be interesting to see if either Japanese automakers bring such technology over in future models.