Volvo Cars has pioneered an innovative feature in cars that aims at reducing the number of road accidents caused by drunken driving.
Alcoguard is a car that utilises advanced fuel cell technology, a solution that is both user friendly and reliable.
The company believes that Alcoguard is a tool, which will assist the driver to make sober decisions. Recent surveys suggest one in every three accidents in Europe is alcohol related.
Volvo's biggest challenges to create a safe traffic environment were speeding, irregular safety belt usage, and drunken driving. The Alcoguard aims at reducing road fatalities caused due to drunken driving.
Alcoguard utilises fuel cell technology – similar to the one used by a majority of police forces in Europe. Prior to starting the car, the driver has to blow into the wireless hand held unit. This remote control sized unit is stored and charged in a compartment behind the centre console. The driver's breath is analysed by this unit. The result is then transmitted to the car's electronic control system via a radio signal. If it exceeds the blood-alcohol limit of 0.2 g/l, the engine will not start. Due to the presence of advanced sensors, it is not possible to use external air sources to deceive the system.
Cecilia Svensson, Technical Manager (Alcoguard), Volvo, says, "Fuel cell technology is more expensive but it also produces far better results. Unlike semiconductors, fuel cells react only to ethanol. In fuel cell, the ethanol molecules pass through a sensitive membrane and an electrical current is generated. This current is then measured. Higher current means more alcohol in the driver's breath.''
The results of the breath analyser test are shown via 3 light emitting diodes (LEDs) in the hand held unit:
- Red: more than 0.2 g/l alcohol, the car's engine will not start
- Yellow: 0.1 - 0.2 g/l alcohol, the car will start, but the driver should not drive
- Green: 0.0 - 0.1 g/l alcohol, the car's engine starts
The preset limit of 0.2 g/l has been chosen to meet Swedish legislations. The Volvo workshop will be able to alter settings depending on what the law of the different countries state.
The hand held unit is wireless, making it possible to be removed from the car. It will always generate an accurate measurement of blood-alcohol level however, it can communicate with the vehicle only within a range of 10 metres.
Cecilia Svensson also added, "We have aimed to make the vehicle as convenient and user friendly a solution as possible. The technology should require as little extra work as possible from the driver. The easier the system is to use, the greater the number of people who will use it."
The company however maintains that Alcoguard should be viewed as a supporting system, as the driver should be able to make decisions based on updated information. For emergencies or if the hand held unit has been misplaced, a bypass function can be activated. It has two alternatives:
- Bypass is possible unlimited number of times
- Bypass is possible only once
Changes to these settings must be carried out by a Volvo workshop. There the system can also be reset if the bypass function has been activated. Every time this is done, the information is logged in the car and only the owner has access to this information.
Development of the new Alcoguard, gains from the fact that technology has now become cheaper, more accurate and more compact.
Jan Ivarsson, Senior Manager, Safety Strategy & Requirements, Volvo Cars, sums up by saying, "In the future, we will hopefully avoid alcohol related traffic accidents. However, that requires not just good technology but also a change in the general attitude to alcohol and driving. In order to promote the use of alcolocks, we feel that an initiative such as a lower purchase price or a reduction in insurance premiums for cars equipped with the system - which might help prevent drivers from getting behind the wheel while intoxicated - is a good idea.''
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