September 5, 2007 One in three traffic fatalities in Europe is alcohol related and around 3,000 people in the UK are killed or seriously injured each year in drink drive collisions. In an effort to help drivers make responsible choices, Volvo is the first manufacturer to launch a fully integrated, voluntary in-car breathalyzer/alcolock system called Alcoguard as an option to its 2008 range, which prevents the car from starting if the driver is over the blood alcohol limit.
To be unveiled at the Frankfurt Motorshow, Alcoguard is designed to be a user-friendly and reliable breathalyzer device. The driver blows into a wireless hand-held unit, the breath is then analyzed and if the blood-alcohol limit is exceeded, the engine simply will not start.
The Alcoguard is a less pervasive system than the locks fitted by Australian courts to repeat-offender drink drivers. These systems not only require a clean reading to start the car, but require further readings at random times during the drive. Any failure to provide a reading once requested, or any reading that shows a blood alcohol reading, causes the car to flash its lights and beep its horn like a car alarm – a major inconvenience and embarrassment in comparison to the voluntary Volvo system.
Volvo’s Alcolock will be available as an accessory in the UK on the Volvo S80, V70 and XC70 during early 2008 and will extend to other models in the Volvo range later next year. Volvo estimates global sales of 2,000 units a year – a figure expected to increase over time.
How it works
Alcoguard employs the same fuel-cell breathalyzer technology used by the majority of police forces in Europe. Before the car can be started, the driver has to blow into the wireless hand-held unit which is stored and charged behind the center console. The driver’s breath is then analyzed and the results are transmitted via radio signal to the car’s electronic control system. The car’s information unit displays messages to help the driver use the device, for instance, to indicate if the test was approved or if the driver needs to exhale longer into the hand-held unit. Thanks to advanced sensors, it is not possible to use external air sources such as a pump to cheat the system.
If the blood-alcohol limit (which can be set by any Volvo dealer) is exceeded, a red LED will appear and the engine will not start. Further results of the breathalyzer test are also shown via two other LEDs. Green means either zero or an insignificant amount of alcohol has been detected and the car engine will start, while yellow signals that the driver is close to the limit - the car will start but the driver is advised not to drive.
The breathalyzer results are stored for 30 minutes after the engine has been turned off, so if the driver stops for a short while they do not need to repeat the procedure.
“Fuel-cell technology is more expensive but it also produces far better results. Unlike semi-conductors, for instance, fuel-cells only react to ethanol and nothing else. In the 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,” says David Nilsson, Volvo Cars technical project manager.
The hand-held unit is wireless, which makes it possible for the driver to remove it from the car to test themselves before they leave an event. Although it will always give an accurate measurement of blood-alcohol level no matter where it is used, it has to be within 10 metres of the car to communicate with the car’s system.
Service and battery replacement in the hand-held unit are carried out together with the car’s regular servicing. If the next owner of the car does not wish to use the system, it is easy for a Volvo dealer to remove it.
“We have aimed to make 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,” says David Nilsson.
Helping drivers make the right decisions
Volvo says Alcoguard should be seen as a supporting system. It is always up to the driver to make decisions based on up-to-date information from Alcoguard. For emergency situations or if the hand-held unit is lost, there is a bypass function that can be activated. There are two alternatives for activating this function. The first allows the driver to bypass the system an unlimited number of times and the second only allows one bypass. Changes to these settings must be carried out by a Volvo dealer.
For drivers who don’t feel they can trust themselves after a few drinks, the Alcoguard represents an excellent opportunity to simply remove the option to drink-drive. Risk-takers, of course, won’t buy or fit the system, but it represents an opportunity for others to make responsible choices – and of course, it will make parents much more willing to lend the car to their kids on a night out.