Richard Freund makes and supplies devices that keep convicted drunken drivers from using their vehicles if they have consumed alcohol.
But even he is reluctant to predict that all cars and trucks someday will have largely invisible systems that will prevent anyone from driving while impaired.
"There are some daunting challenges," Freund told Automotive News. He is president of LifeSafer Interlock Inc., of Cincinnati. He said his company is the largest supplier of ignition interlocks for people who have been ordered by courts to have them installed in their vehicles. Freund called the business "an overnight success that took 20 years to happen."
Six companies provide similar devices in the United States.
The science behind today's interlocks is similar to what the industry hopes will power future vehicles — the fuel cell. A driver blows into a tube. If alcohol is present, it reacts with a catalyst and creates an electrical current. The current opens a relay, which is wired into the vehicle electrical system and prevents the vehicle from starting.
But motorists, especially nondrinkers, won't stand for having to take a breath test every time they want to drive, the experts acknowledge.
"Maybe there is technology we don't know about" that will overcome the big challenges, Freund said. The r&d resources of the automobile industry, some of which already are being applied to drunken driving, will help, he said.
One possible remedy: Vehicles could be equipped with "sniffers" able to detect alcohol in the cabin air. If some was present, the driver then could be required to pass an added test of some kind.