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Can automated vehicles stop drunk driving?

Truly autonomous vehicles, meaning those that don’t require participation from a human operator, are still a long way off. These days, many vehicles have certain capabilities that allow them to assist drivers but fall short of what most people think of when they imagine a self-driving car. That hasn’t stopped researchers in Sweden from looking into technology that could sense when a driver is drunk or otherwise unfit to operate a vehicle, according to Horizon Magazine

While many vehicles already have exterior sensors that provide alerts when a lane is breached or there is an object in close proximity to a vehicle, driver monitoring would require sensors within the vehicle to determine the operator’s state. These sensors could monitor things like heart rate and vision, while also looking for changes in a person’s facial expression and voice. If these sensors pick up a possible issue, which could include things like drunkenness or even fatigue, control of the vehicle would be resumed by the internal system and taken away from the driver. 

There are actually different levels of automation a vehicle can obtain. Many cars on the road today are a level 2, which means they have some capabilities that could be described as automated, but a human operator is needed. Level 6 would be a completely driverless vehicle, meaning that any people in the vehicle would simply be passengers. Vehicles that could sense a driver’s state would be considered level 3. While these cars can take over when necessary, they’re not fully automated in the traditional sense. 

These proposed changes are similar to ignition interlock devices that are outfitted in vehicles of those with repeat drunk driving offenses. Ignition interlock devices are rudimentary when compared to automated systems, as the driver is subject to a breathalyzer that determines blood alcohol content. More advanced sensors would look at some of the factors listed above, such as facial expressions, to determine whether the vehicle can be safely started and driven. There would also be measures to verify the driver’s identity before the vehicle could be started.  

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