New In-Vehicle Technology to Read Blood Alcohol Level

Auto Mechanic Career

Every year in Canada, there are between 1,250-1,500 impaired driving deaths (including motor boat incidents). This is the equivalent of 3.4-4.1 deaths each day. Imagine if there was a foolproof way to get this number down to zero. One company in Sweden believes that they’ve invented this method, and it involves an in-vehicle blood alcohol content sensor.

As a future automotive service technician, there’s a very good chance that in the near future, all cars will be equipped with some sort of blood alcohol sensing technology. For this reason, it’s important to understand why this technology exists, how it will be used, and when we can expect to see it in cars around the world. Read on to learn more.

Current Breathalyzer Technology Used in Today’s Automobiles

Some auto mechanic school students might already know that in-vehicle breathalyzers have been around for decades, and in fact date back to the 1960s. The first in-vehicle blood alcohol detectors were ignition interlock devices, which would lock the ignition to the vehicle if the driver breathed a blood alcohol content (BAC) above the legal limit. Being new technology at the time, these ignition interlock devices were overly sensitive, and had many defects such as improper calibration leading to unnecessary vehicle locking.

Modern ignition interlock devices typically use a fuel cell as the sensor. While not as accurate as infrared spectroscopy breathalyzers used by police officers, they tend to be cheaper and more accessible for use in vehicles. However, because these devices use a blow tube (which can’t be shared between various drivers), they are often only used in the cars of convicted impaired drivers.

But of course, ignition interlocking devices aren’t the only option currently available to deter impaired drivers. US-based company TruTouch Technologies invented an in-vehicle finger scanner that measures blood alcohol content using near-infrared light. If the driver has too high of a BAC, then the car won’t start. Unfortunately, this technology is expensive, and the device itself is large and intrusive, making it undesirable for manufacturers to install in their cars.

Autoliv Development’s New Blood Alcohol Sensor

To combat these less-than-successful in-vehicle BAC sensors, Swedish company Autoliv Development has created a BAC sensor that is built into the steering wheel. The driver’s natural exhalation is read by the steering wheel’s infrared light beams, providing a result in just seconds. Professionals with a career in auto services know that this is a huge improvement upon past breathalyzers, which could take a full minute to respond.

While previous breathalyzers required the driver to have the proper foresight (and desire) to check their own BAC, Autoliv’s system will actually take measurements immediately as the driver enters the car. This reduces the risk that the driver will drive impaired and cause an accident. As of now, the device costs $400 to install in a car, although the government of Canada hasn’t issued any plans to make these devices mandatory for auto manufacturers—not yet at least.

Would you like to see mandatory in-vehicle breathalyzers by the time you graduate from your auto mechanic program

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