Engineers at Saab are developing a miniature key fob breathalyser that would prevent drivers over the drink-driving limit from starting their car.
The company is currently evaluating the device, called Alcokey, in response to concerns among operators of large vehicle fleets.
The system is an adaptation of existing anti-theft technology. When the driver presses the button on the key fob to unlock the car doors, the alcohol sensor is also activated. The driver blows into a small mouthpiece at the end of the fob to provide a breath sample, which passes down an internal tube to a semiconductor sensor. The sample is analysed and the fob displays either a green or red light depending on whether the alcohol content falls within the legal limit or not. The software allows the alcohol limit to be adjusted for different markets.
In the event of a green light or all-clear, the device sends a signal to switch off the vehicle’s immobiliser. A red light means the driver is over the limit, and the engine will be prevented from starting. The current prototype is a separate 10cm x 4cm unit but would be miniaturised for production to fit in the key fob. Saab said Alcokey will be a low-cost device, at e250 (£165), around a tenth of the cost of a fixed system installed in the car.
Saab plans to show the system in the same way as a concept car and assess reaction before deciding whether to go into production. It plans to demonstrate the technology and reveal more details next month, after which it will listen to feedback from the media and customers including fleet operators and government.
The Swedish National Road Administration has welcomed Saab’s initiative. As cars become safer the proportion of accidents in which drink or drugs are a factor is rising.
Reducing drink-driving is one of three priorities of the Swedish National Road Administration. Saab says that if the Alcokey is produced it will be available as a dealer-supplied accessory rather than standard equipment.