Automakers Are Scrambling To Develop Alcohol Detection Tech For New Cars

Industry News / 20 Comments

We could see this life-saving technology in new vehicles from 2026.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), alcohol remains one of the biggest factors in road accidents in the United States. In response to this, the government has put plans in place to combat the problem. New vehicles sold in the USA will be fitted with detection technology that would prevent an individual from driving while under the influence of alcohol.

Currently, this technology doesn't exist - not even in tech-laden cars like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The mandate - which forms part of the bipartisan Investment Infrastructure and Jobs Act - has stirred automotive parts suppliers into action, with one Japanese company claiming that it's got a head start in this segment.

Asahi Kasei, a Japanese electronics and chemicals specialist, told Automotive News that it has been working on alcohol and gas sensors (albeit for other applications) for nearly three decades.


With a real possibility that the feature may be implemented as soon as 2026, parts suppliers are feeling the pressure. "To be honest, I think it took everybody by surprise, not only in our company but at all the OEMs and Tier 1 [suppliers] that this legislation appeared," explained the company's Mike Franchy.

"It's something that's been proposed in the past. But everybody assumed we'd see it required first in Europe. It really came about here in the US thanks to years of effort by Mothers Against Drunk Driving to work with the auto industry," he added.

Anticipating that Europe would introduce these measures first, the company purchased a Swedish tech firm called Senseair a few years ago. This newly-acquired subsidiary has been tasked with developing a sensor that can be integrated without requiring new hardware.

So, how would it work?


A sensor, situated either in the door trim or steering column, would be able to pass or fail a driver after they exhaled towards the sensor. The vehicle would provide a pass/fail reading and, based on the outcome, allow the driver to proceed or not.

An algorithm will be able to detect ethanol on the driver's breath, compared with carbon dioxide. A detector then measures how much infrared light - on a specific wavelength - is taken in by the surrounding air. Based on this measurement, the device can then work out the concentration of ethyl alcohol.

Even though Asahi Kasei will not act as a Tier 1 supplier to the world's car manufacturers, the company's technology will reach vehicles through other components, possibly made by more traditional auto parts producers.


As the automobile becomes more advanced, there's an opportunity for different companies to get involved, provide their unique skills - from the electronics and medical fields - and implement it in modern vehicles.

Asahi Kasei is one of these companies and wants to become actively involved in the American automotive industry. "There are new product opportunities and new customer relations that are possible in the United States right now. The US is primed for growth."

Despite the obvious dangers, many motorists still choose to get behind the wheel when inebriated. According to the NHTSA, approximately 32 people die daily in the USA due to drunk-driving crashes. That works out to one death every 45 minutes which, frankly, is chilling.

Hopefully, this technology comes to fruition, as it has the potential to save countless lives across the world.

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