Steering Wheel Pad Designed to Detect Alcohol Use Within Seconds

Nicole Schlosser
Posted on December 13, 2016
Sober Steering’s sensor pad can be affixed to a steering wheel and detect the presence of alcohol within seconds of the driver placing their hand on it.
Sober Steering’s sensor pad can be affixed to a steering wheel and detect the presence of alcohol within seconds of the driver placing their hand on it.

WATERLOO, Ontario — A Canadian company here has brought to market a tool to help prevent drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel by using the steering wheel itself.

Sober Steering has created a pad with the same name for the steering wheel that features a touch-based ignition interlock that can detect alcohol in the driver’s system within seconds of them placing their hand on it.

The transdermal technology, in the form of biosensors in the pad, can “sniff” gases from the skin to detect alcohol in the driver’s system, said Catherine Carroll, CEO of Sober Steering. The biosensors then analyze the gases emitted from the skin, and if the amount of alcohol detected exceeds a pre-set limit, the vehicle is immobilized, and an instant message is sent to school transportation personnel.

The concept for the technology came from the company’s knowledge of military sensors that are placed on the tip of a deployed missile that “sniffs” the air to determine what chemicals are present in the atmosphere, Carroll said.

Sober Steering chose school transportation as its first market for the sensor pad.

“When we were considering how we wanted to introduce this alcohol sensor, we said we need to target the most valuable assets in a vehicle,” Carroll said.

Although it may seem similar to the Breathalyzer, an instrument that assesses blood alcohol content from a breath sample, what differentiates Sober Steering is not only that it can detect alcohol use within five to seven seconds, as opposed to about 30 seconds with the Breathalyzer, but also that it is discreet, because it is located on the steering wheel, Carroll explained.

Breathalyzers have been available for about 40 years but they have not typically been employed in school buses, Carroll said, which she believes is mostly because of the trust that exists between the parent and the driver.

“If the parent sees the driver blowing into a Breathalyzer, it impacts that trust, so you want something that is a little more discreet but ensures there is no driving [under the influence.]”

Sober Steering will soon have approximately 430 of the sensor pads installed in Waterloo Region District school vehicles in Ontario, Canada, by September 2017. The installation is a preventive measure that aims to improve student safety and is not a response to an incident involving the school system's buses, said Benoit Bourgault, general manager for Student Transportation Services of Waterloo Region.

A sensor designed to detect marijuana is on the horizon, Carroll added.

Carroll also stressed that even if there is not much discussion about the potential tragedy that can stem from drunk driving, that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening, and that schools and bus companies can’t take even greater preventive measures.

“It happens regularly, and it shouldn’t ever happen, because the technology exists to prevent it,” she added. “The sad thing is, even your best driver can have a single bad day. But in this profession, a single bad day means putting 72 children's lives in danger.”

Related Topics: impaired driving, Ontario

Nicole Schlosser Executive Editor
Comments ( 3 )
  • Sara

     | about 3 years ago

    The safety risk comes from the thomes of people constantly cutting us off. Ask the Elliot driver whose bus was crashed into by an impatient SUV driver trying to pass 7 vehicles on a 2 lane highway and destroyed the bus and her vehicle. This is a conviction of drunk driving without a court hearing. I don't even drink, but am told hand sanitizer can set it off sending an accusation email right to transportation destroying an innocent person's reputation. How about we put cameras IN the bus to protect drivers from false accusations and make the ride TRULY safe for the kids who are being bullied and beaten on the bus. This is nothing more than some Soccer Mom's pet project because she's convinced herself that school bus drivers are losers. Well, good luck filling all those empty driver jobs. You want to know WHY there's a shortage? You're paid less than minimum wage, the bus companies harass their drivers when they're sick and the transportation department allows buses in the country to travel icy roads when they should be OFF the road and then blame the drivers WHEN the tires won't grip the ice (sometimes near BALD tires because the rear wheels can legally have 1/16th of an inch tread and 1/4 inch on the front ). You want to make the buses safer for the kids? Make them walk because if this goes through, although I don't touch alcohol, I will quit because the money to purchase these sensors could have gone to pay the drivers better than $11 an hour when the GRT drivers get $27 an hour and do not have to manage passenger behaviour and have cameras on board to protect them. The Ministry of Education and the Waterloo school boards do NOT care about the people who are transporting these kids - not one bit. Sharp drivers in Kitchener are forming a union it's so bad. When that happens, Elliot and Stock are not far behind.

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