New technology aims to stall drunk drivers

DUI generic drunk driving

CHARLOTTE, N.C. It won't be available in 2013, but a Massachusetts company is working on new technology to keep drunk drivers off the road.

CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann looks at a project that's coming too late for one North Carolina couple.

"You never get over the loss of a child, your son," says Meredith Eastridge. "It's the worst thing you could ever go through."

Meredith and Matt Eastridge were driving home in October 2010 when another car, speeding 100 miles per hour, hit them head on.

They both were critically hurt. Meredith, six months pregnant, lost their baby son.

"I think about him every day, how old he would be and what he would be doing," Meredith said

"The family you would have had," Mark added.

David Huffman drove the other car. Surveillance video from a Charlotte bar showed he had the equivalent of fifteen drinks in two hours.

He stumbled outside, and three minutes later, was killed when his car crashed into the Eastridges.

"This is something that could have been prevented. This is 100 percent preventable," Meredith said.

Outside Boston, a company called Qinetiq is developing technology that could end drunk driving, once and for all.

Bud Zaouck leads the $10 million project. All sixteen major carmakers and the federal government split the funding.

"We have now narrowed down to two technologies, one is breath-based, and the other is touch-based," Zaouck said.

Either way, the goal is if someone is impaired behind the wheel, the car will not move.

In the touch-based approach, a sensor, embedded in the car's start/stop button, sends an infrared light into the fingertip. It measures the tissue's alcohol content. Or, a sensor mounted near the steering wheel can test a driver's breath.

In a half-second, it reads whether the driver's alcohol count is above 0.08, the national legal limit.

Zaouck's team is still working through every driving scenario.

He said the sensor could detect whether the person touching the button was actually sitting in the driver's seat or whether somebody else is reaching over.

Zaouck says the technology could be ready by the end of the decade.

"This is the single best opportunity we have to prevent 10,000 people from dying a year - the equivalent of the seat belt of our generation," Zaouck said.

But the technology is opposed by the American Beverage Institute, a trade group representing 8,000 U.S. chain restaurants.

They worry about inaccurate sensors, saying that "targeting all Americans with alcohol sensing technology....could eliminate many people's ability to have a glass of wine with dinner, a beer at a ballgame, or a champagne toast at a wedding and then drive home."

David Huffman's autopsy showed he was drunk almost three times the legal limit. The new sensors would have stopped his car from moving.

"There were multiple times in that night this tragedy could have been avoided," Matt Eastridge said.

"If you are over the limit and get in the car, the car shouldn't work," Meredith said.

Since their accident, the Eastridges have had a daughter, Sloane, and won a settlement against the bar worth $1.7 million. Both say they would give back every penny for one more day with the son they lost.