Wed, Dec 24, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Scientist develops device to report intoxicated drivers

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

It is the ultimate nightmare for drink-drivers -- a car which tells you that you are unfit to drive and contacts police if you ignore its warning.

The device, developed by a neuroscientist at Manchester Metropolitan University, will establish if a motorist is unfit to drive because they are too drunk or have taken drugs.

Dilwyn Marple-Horvat, from the university, is conducting road trials near the university's Alsager campus in Cheshire, using an Alfa Romeo 156.

The device, which costs around ?40,000 (US$70,500), measures the coordination between hand and eye. It uses an in-car eyetracker and a sensor that monitors steering wheel movements. An infra-red camera locks on to the driver's eye and it can determine where the driver is looking.

All this information is fed into a small computer under the bonnet which calculates the hand-to-eye coordination. Researchers have already studied the performance of drivers on a simulator over a period of time after they had administered vodka and orange juice at set intervals.

"Usually the time delay between looking at the new direction of travel and then moving the hand on the steering wheel is about half to three-quarters of a second. But under the influence of drink, the interval between eye and steering wheel movement gets shorter, because the eyes move later," Marple-Horvat said.

The device can also detect if a driver is suffering from the effects of tiredness, after taking sleeping tablets or drugs such as cannabis.

It then issues a verbal warning that the driver's performance is inhibited. If the driver ignores the warning, the computer could contact police or it could intervene to slow the car.

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