Hitachi and Honda develop cars which won’t start for drunk drivers
Tue 29 Mar 2016
Motor manufacturers Hitachi and Honda have collaborated to develop a commercial ignition interlock system which integrates a breathalyser into a car’s smart-key – and locks the ignition if the driver is inebriated.
The prototype system [PDF] means that drivers do not have to be sitting behind the wheel of their vehicles, as is currently the case with similar ‘drunk-lock’ systems, mostly used in the United States as penalties for drivers convicted of drunk driving.
Systems designed to impede drunk driving in this manner date back to the late 1960s, with the latest versions relying on a fuel sensor analysing a driver’s breath and putting it through a chemical oxidisation reaction on platinum catalytic electrode surface. The amount of subsequent transferable current provides an approximated equivalent blood alcohol reading.
Ignition interlock systems are usually paid for by the convicted offender who wishes to regain their driving privileges, which in the U.S. amounts to approximately $150 for installation and $80 per month for monitoring charges. Though a number of companies provide specialised systems for justice departments, the possibility of incorporating such technology into car ignition systems by default – which Sweden mooted in 2006 – is one that’s likely to appeal to insurance companies, and which is already making significant headway in the far more heavily-regulated trucking industry.
Hitachi and Honda emphasise that their joint effort allows the driver to make an evaluation of their own fitness to drive before getting into the vehicle, a unique feature in an ignition interlock system, and one way to avoid falling foul of diverse state and national laws which take different attitudes towards drunk drivers even sitting down behind the wheel of their cars.
The system, which will be presented at SAE 2016 World Congress and Exhibit in Detroit from 12th April, is apparently capable of detecting drivers over the alcohol limit (in this case, of Japan) within three seconds, and uses three types of semiconductor gas sensors, promising a threefold accuracy increase over ethanol sensors. The alcohol measured can be displayed on the vehicle’s display panel.
The report from the two companies states that the system, which is integrated into a specific device rather than adopting Volvo’s new smartphone-based approach, ‘can confirm that the applied gas is human exhaled breath and can detect the level of alcohol at the same time, an enhancement over currently available devices,’ and continues, ‘advancements like these will contribute to reducing or eliminating instances of drunk driving.’
It seems unlikely that this combined effort is intended to accommodate offender-driver programs, but rather an initiative to make alcohol analysis systems a default part of the non-autonomous driving experience.