Saab AlcoKey Helps Drivers
Sweden has one of the best road safety records in Europe, but drinking and driving remains a serious hazard, accounting for about 35 per cent of all crash fatalities in Sweden last year (2005). Now Saab is ready for field trials in 100 cars of its innovative Saab AlcoKey, a simple, reusable device that fits conveniently in the pocket or handbag.
As compact as a small mobile phone, the Saab AlcoKey module incorporates a cap covering a mouthpiece where the driver provides a breath sample before starting the car. A radio transmitter then sends a signal to the car’s electronic control unit, which will either allow the car to be started or remain immobilized if the breath sample is found to contain alcohol above the permitted legal level.
Saab AlcoKey meets an increasing demand in Sweden among car fleet operators and public service providers for an effective means of ensuring drivers cannot drive if their blood/alcohol level is over the limit. It could be offered as an option for Saab 9-5 and 9-3 models sold on the Swedish market.
Senior Saab executives and local car fleet and taxi operators will participate in user trials over the next six months involving about 100 cars. It is the final step in a two-year development program that has focused on miniaturizing the unit to its current small size and maximizing battery longevity, now rated at 12 months when used five times a day.
Quick and easy to use, Saab AlcoKey utilizes existing anti-theft technology, independent of the car’s ignition key. Before being able to start the car, the driver must first switch on Saab AlcoKey and blow into the mouthpiece for about three seconds, until the unit emits a beep. The breath sample passes over a tiny sensor inside the unit and green or red light is immediately illuminated on Saab AlcoKey.
The green light indicates a satisfactory sample and the engine’s electronic immobilizer is released via Saab AlcoKey’s radio signal, allowing the driver to start the car and proceed. If a red light shows, the engine cannot be started as the engine immobilizer remains armed. To avoid the need for a second breath sample, the car must be started within a minute of the “green” signal from Saab AlcoKey.
Saab AlcoKey also measures the temperature of a breath sample, allowing it to distinguish between a normal, human sample and, for example, air introduced from a balloon or a foot pump in an attempt to defeat the alcohol check.
An amber warning light flashes whenever the battery pack has less than 20 per cent capacity remaining. The pack should be replaced through a Saab dealership, although a cable connection to the car’s cigar lighter is also included for emergency power if the battery pack is not replaced in time.
Saab AlcoKey is currently intended only for the Swedish market. During the life of a car, subsequent owners could have the Saab AlcoKey functionality removed from the engine management system at a Saab dealership.
The user field trials will focus on verifying Saab AlcoKey’s convenience and ease of use. If a breath sample is provided before entering the car – the Saab AlcoKey transmitter has a range of up to 10 meters – its quick three to four second clearance process should not delay the driver. The software program in the trial cars is currently adjusted so that the engine can be restarted within 10 minutes, without the need for a Saab AlcoKey signal. In everyday use, Saab AlcoKey could provide a useful check if a driver has had a drink some time before intending to drive or has been drinking the night before.
Designed as a reliable and more convenient alternative to wired, in-vehicle systems available on the aftermarket, Saab AlcoKey could be offered at a retail price of around 3000 SEK. Announcing the user trial program, in which he will take part, Saab Automobile Managing Director Jan-Åke Jonsson said: “Car crashes and personal injuries due to drinking and driving remain a great concern and Saab wants to do what it can to help prevent such behavior.
“We have listened to car fleet operators in Sweden, particularly those running public or taxi services,” Jonsson said. “They want to demonstrate their social responsibility and provide some public reassurance by giving drivers access to a device such as Saab AlcoKey.”
The Saab AlcoKey project has been supported by the Swedish National Road Administration as a means of improving driving safety. “We all have a responsibility to discourage drinking and driving,” said NRA Traffic Safety Director Claes Tingvall. “As Saab is the first car manufacturer to be involved in this work with us, we are together making a big step forward when it comes to increasing the acceptance of and demand for systems like these.”