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Alcohol Detection Systems in Cars

Even with modern driver-assist technology, most drivers are still in charge of how they drive and when they get behind the wheel. Advances in self-driving vehicle technology may take the driver out of the equation but fully-functional consumer vehicles may be a few years off. Another technology that can limit when impaired drivers get behind the wheel has been recommended by traffic safety groups. 

Ignition interlock devices (IIDs) can limit when drivers can start and operate their cars if they are over the limit. Other technology is being developed to include alcohol monitoring in all vehicles, stopping drivers from operating a vehicle if the system detects alcohol in the driver's body. 

If you want to avoid a restricted license that requires blowing to start your car, the best option is to avoid a criminal conviction. If you were arrested for drunk driving in Oakland or the East Bay,  talk to an East Bay DUI defense lawyer Lynn Gorelick about your best legal defenses.

Current Alcohol Detection Systems in California Vehicles

The most common alcohol-detection system currently available for California drivers is the ignition interlock device (IID). An IID is required for most drivers who are arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI alcohol). Even a first offense requires drivers to install an IID in order to get their driving privileges back. 

In 2019, California expanded a pilot program requiring IIDs in 4 counties, including Alameda County. With an IID, drivers do not have to wait out their driver's license suspension period before getting behind the wheel. Drivers have to have an IID installed until they complete the terms of their probation. After the suspension period, drivers can get their driving privileges reinstated. 

How Does an IID Work?

An ignition interlock device is like a breathalyzer installed in the vehicle. Before a driver can start up the car, they have to blow a breath sample into a tube on the IID. If the IID does not register any alcohol in the driver's breath, the vehicle will start. The IID then requires rolling samples every 5 to 15 minutes while the driver is operating the car. 

If a driver blows a breath that registers alcohol, it will be recorded on the IID and later reported to the DMV. Any attempts to tamper with the device are also recorded and will be reported. If an alcohol breath is registered while the vehicle is operating, the vehicle will shut down and not restart until a clean breath is provided. 

An IID can prevent impaired drivers from operating a vehicle. If a restricted driver has someone else blow into the device to start the car or drive a vehicle without an IID, it is a violation of their probation. The driver can be penalized for violating IID requirements and could face additional criminal charges. 

National Transportation Safety Board Report on Alcohol Devices

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an administrative body that advocates for the implementation of safety recommendations. In a 2022 report, the NTSB recommended alcohol impairment detection systems be included in all new vehicles. 

According to the NTSB, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) should require all new vehicles to be equipped with "passive vehicle-integrated alcohol impairment detection systems, advanced driver monitoring systems, or a combination of the two that would be capable of preventing or limiting vehicle operation if it detects driver impairment by alcohol."

The NTSB has also recommended lowering the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) laws to 0.05%. So far, only Utah has lowered the legal limit. Other states have introduced similar legislation but have not passed stricter limits. 

Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety Program

The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) Research Program, together with the NHTSA and Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS) are developing alcohol detection systems for use in cars and trucks. The prototype alcohol detection programs could measure the alcohol in a driver's blood in less than one second. 

Among the DADSS technology are a breath sensor and a touch sensor. The Autoliv breath-based system measures the alcohol and carbon dioxide using detectors in the vehicle. An infrared sensor that detects a BAC of 0.08% or higher can trigger the automobile to disable the start function and limit vehicle operation until the driver is under the limit. 

The TakataTruTouch touch-based technology uses a touchpad interface and near-infrared light to measure alcohol concentration in the driver's skin. This works similarly to the SCRAM bracelet technology used to monitor drivers under house arrest or on probation. Continuous monitoring can detect alcohol in the wearer's skin and sweat. 

According to DADSS, consumers may see breath sensor devices in consumer vehicles as early as 2024. Gen 4.0 breath sensors are in development in 2023, with integration in test vehicles. Contactless, passive-breath, and dual infrared channel operating are targeted for mass production in consumer vehicles in 2024-2025. 

How Can I Avoid a Conviction for a DUI in California?

A drunk driving conviction requires most drivers to get an IID installed in the vehicle to get their driving privileges back. Driving with an IID can be frustrating and drivers have to pay the cost of installation and monitoring. The best way to improve your chances of not having a restricted license is to avoid a conviction. There are many legal defense strategies available for drivers facing California DUI charges, including: 

  • Police officers did not have probable cause
  • Chemical testing is unreliable or the tests were compromised
  • Police conducted an unlawful search and seizure
  • Lack of evidence to support a prosecution

Your best option may be to contact an experienced DUI defense lawyer to make sure the arrest does not end in a conviction. East Bay attorney Lynn Gorelick has more than 40 years of California DUI defense experience, representing drivers in Alameda County and Contra Costa County. Contact East Bay DUI defense lawyer Lynn Gorelick today.

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