Researchers are developing sensory devices to be installed in cars that would keep them from starting if the drivers have had too many drinks.
The new technology would require a passive set of sensors permanently installed in the vehicles or touch-sensitive contact points on a key fob or starter button would immediately register the level of alcohol in the bloodstream.
The "technology presents a new opportunity for us to dramatically lower drunk-driving deaths and has the potential to save literally thousands of lives every year," the Washington Post quoted David Strickland, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as saying.
The objective is to produce a device that will react in less than a second and function without maintenance for least 10 years or 157,000 miles.
Meanwhile, Lead researcher Susan Ferguson said, "We haven't met our criteria yet, but we feel comfortable that we will."
Right now the sensors that detect alcohol levels in the air can be made to react within five seconds after a driver gets into the vehicle. The touch-detection system currently takes 20 to 30 seconds to determine blood-alcohol content, she said.
"But the next generation of solid-state electronics will bring it down a lot," she said.
Strassburger said the cost per vehicle hasn't been established, "but obviously it has to be relatively low."
It "has to be in line with other safety systems. We want the public to understand the need and how they benefit," he said.