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Japan's automakers say no to drinking driving

Posted by: Ian Rowley on September 20, 2006

In June, I mentioned on the Asia Tech Blog a new cell phone from DoCoMo which allows Japan’s managers to check if drivers have been hitting the bottle before taking to the road. Now, Nissan and Toyota want to go a step further and find ways to make cars which insist on sobriety. Last week, the Nihon Keizai newspaper reported that Nissan is researching a system that would require drivers to blow into an in-car breathalyzer before being allowed to start the engine. If the driver has alcohol in his breath, the car would not allow the engine to start. That tech could be combined with a camera based unit designed to monitor drowsiness akin to being drunk. Today in Tokyo Toyota chiefs revealed they’re also raising the bar against drunk drivers. Speaking at press conference to announce business strategy, CEO Katsuaki Watanabe and R&D chief Kazuo Okamoto confirmed that Toyota is also researching various approaches to the problem including breathalyzers, using the steering wheel to test for alcohol through the hands or monitoring driver behavior once they’re on the road. “I think we should introduce that technology as soon as possible,” Watanabe told the audience. Still, drivers would be unwise to hold their breath, alcohol free or otherwise. Okamoto warned inroducing a suitable system is a long way off. “From the design side it would be very difficult [to devise a system] for passenger cars,” he said. One problem is that someone other than the driver could take the breath tests, for example. “Probably various techniques will have to be combined, but I have to say we’re still at an R&D stage.”

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