Report: Toyota System Would Detect Drunken Drivers, Shut Down Cars

Drivers who get beyond the wheel after too many drinks could soon find themselves in trouble not just with the law, but with their cars, too.

Toyota Motor Corp. (TM) is developing a reputedly fail-safe system for cars that detects drunken drivers and automatically shuts the vehicle down if sensors pick up signs of excessive alcohol consumption, a news report said Wednesday.

Cars fitted with the detection system will not start if sweat sensors in the driving wheel detect high levels of alcohol in the driver's bloodstream, according to a report carried by the mass-circulation daily, Asahi Shimbun.

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The system could also kick in if the sensors detect abnormal steering, or if a special camera shows that the driver's pupils are not in focus. The car is then slowed to a halt, the report said.

The world's No. 2 automaker hopes to fit cars with the system by the end of 2009, according to the report. Calls to Toyota's headquarters in Nagoya rang unanswered on Wednesday, a public holiday.

Nissan Motor Co., another Japanese car manufacturer, has already been experimenting with breathalyzer-like devices that could detect if a driver was drunken. Similar technologies, such as alcohol ignition interlocks, are in use in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Some in the U.S. hailed the report as evidence of companies addressing societal problems while appealing to consumer demands. In an e-mailed response to a reporter's questions, David Boaz, Executive Vice President of the Cato Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank, said "This is a great example of the way the private sector solves problems. There's more demand for reducing drunk driving, and Toyota is responding to that demand with innovative engineering."

Concerns over drunken driving have surged in Japan following a series of alcohol-related accidents last year. In August, a drunken driver collided with another vehicle carrying a family of five, plunging them off a bridge and killing three children.

The incident prompted stepped-up roadside spot checks by police, who also plan to stiffen penalties for drunken driving.

Click here to visit's Autos Center.'s Greg Simmons and the Associated Press contributed to this report.