Imagine a smart steering wheel that could sense by the mere touch of a driver’s hand if he’s had one too many. This is the next generation of alcohol-sensing interlock technology: Automatically activated and pre-market installed, it would prevent a car from operating if a driver is beyond a pre-set limit, even if he (mistakenly) thinks he’s safe to hit the road.
A steering wheel capable of calculating a driver’s blood-alcohol concentration based on the chemical properties of his skin may seem futuristic. But it is one example of technology being applied to a new class of alcohol detection systems that are already in research and development by car manufacturers, says Shannon Frattaroli, PhD ’99, MPH ’94, an assistant professor of Health Policy and Management with CIRP.
“It’ll no longer be a matter of figuring out strategies to discourage people from drinking and driving,” she says. “Now, we can imagine a time when drinking and driving and all the deaths, injuries and mayhem associated with it will just not be possible.”
Injury prevention research has borne out the fact that passive interventions—those requiring no action on the part of users—are very effective, Frattaroli says. Think airbags, for instance.
What society decides to do with this technology once it’s available could have huge implications for public health. CIRP faculty members are monitoring the development of alcohol- sensing technologies and the policy options under consideration for advancing their application. “If we can end the devastation caused by drinking and driving—and it seems possible in the not-too-distant future—that’ll be an amazing advancement,” Frattaroli says.
Alain Labrique shows off a trove of low-cost technological treasures that support research from Kenya to Bangladesh.
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