Virginia partnership starts first real-world testing of in-car alcohol detection technology


Virginia’s Governor, Ralph Northam, launched the ‘Driven to Protect’ public-private partnership that is developing and piloting new technology to eliminate drunk driving and save lives on the state’s roads.

The partnership is the first between a state government and the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) program to deploy in-vehicle alcohol detection sensors (ADS) that will determine when a driver is impaired with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at or above the legal limit.

The DADSS program brings together the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS), a non-profit organization wholly funded by the world’s leading auto makers, the US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), in one of the most important government and private sector partnerships in recent years.

As part of the initiative, Driven to Protect is partnering with James River Transportation (JRT), a private hire transportation company operating a fleet of more than 80 vehicles, including, buses, coaches, mini-buses, cars and limos. Based in the Richmond area, JRT has been conducting some of the first in-vehicle, on-road test trials with prototype sensors fitted to their fleet.

The alcohol detection system works by measuring the alcohol (ethanol) level present in a driver’s naturally exhaled breath. A small sensor analyzes only the breath molecules of the driver using infrared light. The sensor would be programmable to a zero-tolerance policy for parents of teen drivers, or to the legal limit BAC of 0.08%.

Beginning last month, the first Ford Flex SUVs in the James River commercial fleet started operating from Richmond International Airport and Norfolk International Airport, taking clients wherever they need to go seamlessly and integrating the prototype technology collecting real-world operational data throughout the ride.

The feedback and data collected from drivers and passengers will be invaluable in finalizing the ADS technology as it is prepared for widespread commercialization. In just the last three weeks, the James River vehicles have accumulated more than 10,000 miles (16,000km) and the ADS sensors have been in operation for more than 1,000 hours.

“We are developing an unobtrusive system that doesn’t hassle sober drivers to help prevent drunk driving and save lives,” said Rob Strassburger, president and CEO of ACTS. “The Alcohol Detection System will be offered voluntarily as a consumer option in the same way that other advanced vehicle technology features, such as lane departure warning or automatic emergency braking, are offered.”

JRT’s president, Stephen Story, commented, “We are very excited to partner with the Virginia DMV and the DADSS program to be the first in the world to road test this safety technology in advance of it being introduced to the driving public.”

Governor Northam said, “The Driven to Protect initiative will help combat drunk driving through innovative vehicle-based solutions that complement existing, tried-and-true traffic safety initiatives to save lives.”

Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine noted, “Last year, 248 people were killed and 4,430 injured on Virginia’s roadways in alcohol-impaired crashes. DADSS holds the potential to be an integral part of making our roadways safer.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).