Drunk driving is responsible for more traffic deaths than any other single factor. To help alleviate this problem, Saab is developing a unique, miniature alcohol-sensing device designed to help prevent drivers from operating a car after drinking.
The Saab “Alcokey” concept includes a small mouthpiece in the car’s key fob. A transponder communicates with the car’s electronic control unit, preventing the engine from starting if a breath sample from the driver is found to contain alcohol above legal levels.
Such a device could be made available as an accessory through Saab dealers and is currently under evaluation and development in response to increasing concern about drunk driving, particularly among companies and public services in Sweden responsible for operating large fleets of cars.
Tests with a key-fob prototype for the Saab 9-5 model are designed to verify its reliability and accuracy. The concept is intended as a convenient and inexpensive means of measuring a driver’s alcohol level without the need to install more costly, fixed apparatus inside the car. In commercial production, the Alcokey concept would cost about $US300, or a fraction of the cost of a fixed system installed inside the car. Saab plans to demonstrate the concept in conjunction with a safety seminar in Tylosand, Sweden, in August.
The Alcokey concept is an intelligent adaptation of existing anti-theft technology. When the driver presses the “unlock doors” button on the car’s remote-control key fob, the alcohol sensor is also switched on. The driver then blows into a small mouthpiece at the end of the fob to provide a breath sample which passes down a small internal tube containing a semi-conductor sensor the size of a pin-head. The sample is then analyzed and a small green or red light on the fob illuminates.
If the green light is shown, the key will transmit an “all clear” signal to the car’s electronic control unit. This is in addition to the usual signal the key normally transmits to switch off the anti-theft engine immobilizer. However, if a red light is shown, the “all clear” signal will not be sent and the engine will continue to be immobilized. The software instructing the engine immobilizer can be adjusted according to the blood-alcohol legal limits where the car is registered.
The current prototype Alcokey is a separate unit, about 4 inches long and 1.5 inches wide, in addition to a conventional Saab 9-5 combined key and remote control. In production, further miniaturization could allow both to be contained in a single, pocket-sized unit.
Mounting concern about drunk-driving in Sweden and many other countries has prompted Saab to develop the Alcokey concept. Companies operating large car fleets, with employees driving the vehicles for business, are interested in demonstrating their social responsibility by having an alcohol-monitoring device as standard equipment. And in some countries, such devices may even become mandatory.
Saab Automobile’s President and CEO, Peter Augustsson, has taken a personal interest in the Alcokey project. “Alcohol consumption is increasing in many countries and this often leads to a greater incidence of drunk driving,” he said. “As a car manufacturer, Saab is keen to do what it can to help prevent such behavior. We are an innovative brand and, in that tradition, the Alcokey concept is a very practical and efficient solution. It will help those who want to be sure they should only get behind the wheel when they are fit to drive.”
The Swedish National Road Administration is supporting Saab’s work and its director, Ingemar Skog, says he is pleased to see Saab pioneering such a practical aid to safe driving. “We all have a duty to discourage drunk driving, and this is a valuable initiative that other car companies should consider following,” he said.
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