Next target: drunken driving image

NHTSA Chief is urging the auto industry to continue supporting research on technology advances that could end most drunken driving.

The head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, David Strickland wrote the CEOs of major automakers telling them the research backed by automakers and the federal government to develop an in-vehicle system that could prevent drunken drivers from starting a car shows great promise.

The group is working with two auto suppliers with different approaches that “are shown to be very, very effective,” Strickland said at a speech last week. “We probably have another five years of work to go,” Strickland said, before it’s possible one of these cars could be on the roads. “It will be available as an option by manufacturers, and I think it’s a real way forward.”

Research began in 2008 and the Congress approved $5.3 million for this budget year for alcohol detection research; Congress has authorized slightly more for the budget year that starts Oct. 1 and the research is also funded by large automakers, including Detroit’s Big Three.

“A tangible result of that work will be demonstrated later this year, when a research vehicle including both touch-based and breath-based detection technologies is available for further evaluation,” he wrote. “I have referred to it as a ‘moonshot’ for traffic safety with initially long odds but the potential for dramatically powerful results if we are successful.”

The industry is helping to fund the project through the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety. NHTSA staff and the group are currently working on a new agreement for the next phase. Strickland noted that about 10,000 people are killed each year as a result of drunken driving; tens of thousands more are injured.