TOKYO -- Toyota Motor Corp. began road tests last week of a breathalyzer that is mounted on the instrument panel and locks a truck's ignition if it detects the driver has had too much to drink.
The road tests involve 30 commercial vehicles. The goal is to give transportation and delivery companies better control of their fleets. Toyota has no immediate plans to introduce the technology in passenger vehicles.
"We are always interested in reducing accidents," said Bunji Atsumi, the engineer who worked for two years to develop the system's alcohol sensors.
Toyota's breathalyzer, developed jointly with its truck subsidiary, Hino Motors Ltd., is about the size of a cell phone and combines an alcohol detection sensor and digital camera. As the driver blows into the sensor, a camera photographs the test-taker's face. The dispatcher can check the photo to make sure the test-taker was indeed the authorized driver.
If the driver tests as inebriated, the system either warns the driver or locks the vehicle's ignition, depending on the level of alcohol detected. It then contacts the fleet administrator.
Toyota's breathalyzer comes on the heels of similar technology from Nissan Motor Co.
Nissan's system uses sensors embedded in the transmission shifter knob and head rest to detect alcohol in the driver's perspiration or exhaled air, instead of requiring the driver to blow into a sensor.
It also uses a camera to monitor the driver's state of consciousness.