How will the IoT be used to prevent drunken driving?

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On our most recent IoT Podcast episode, Brian called into our voicemail hotline with a question about the Build Back Better legislation recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives. There’s a provision in the current bill that requires new vehicles to prevent drunken driving. Specifically, Brian wants to know how this might be implemented.

The short answer is: We don’t yet know. That’s because the current bill doesn’t outline specific implementations. It only offers some timelines to figure out the solutions and then implement them.

Here’s what we do know after reading the section of the bill that pertains to this. It’s Section 24220, in case you want to see the original wording.

First, between two and three years from the bill’s passage into law, the U.S. government will create a federal standard for “advanced drunk and impaired driving prevention technology safety.” That standard will be used for two purposes:

  1. To “passively monitor the performance of a driver of a motor vehicle to accurately identify whether that driver may be impaired.”
  2. To “prevent or limit motor vehicle operation if an impairment is detected”

So nothing is going to change, at least not by mandate, in any new vehicles prior to that. Essentially, the government will be working on the standard at least until 2024 or 2025.

Once the standard is approved, vehicle manufacturers have an additional two to three years to equip their cars with solutions that meet the standard. These solutions must “passively and accurately” determine a driver’s blood alcohol content level while driving, and also prevent vehicle operating if that level is above the legal limit.

Given the timeframes, the earliest we’ll see mandated solutions for this serious issue is 2026. I suspect that the real date will be a few years after that though.

Why? We don’t yet know the standard, so it’s difficult for actual solution designs. Sure, companies can, and likely will, get started in advance by using various IoT devices and services. Even so, I would think we’ll see a slow uptake from vehicle makers.

Surely, some sensors will be part of the solution, although cameras could be as well. But we just don’t know the specifics yet. I’m thinking that by the time this effort is here, our mobile phones will open and start most new cars.

It could be that you can’t start your car if your phone is able to detect that you’ve had too much to drink: There are breathalyzer attachments for phones available today, although I wouldn’t call that “passive” monitoring. I also think automated cruise systems in today’s vehicles could be leveraged.

These are the systems that use external cameras to view the lines of the road and adjust the steering to stay in the lane. If a driver isn’t staying in the lane because they’re impaired by alcohol, it should be easy to use the same system to know that.

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