Apps for curbing drunk driving

Computer science professor unveils app for videotaping vehicles moving erratically

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A computer science professor at the University of California in Riverside has created a free mobile app that allows drivers to record and report erratic drivers.

The "DuiCam" runs on iPhones and Android devices. To use the app, "all a driver needs is a dashboard or windshield mount," UC Riverside says in a statement. "The app lets the phone constantly record what's happening in front of the car, while deleting footage after 30 minutes so the phone's storage isn't overwhelmed."

If app users decide they may be witnessing an unsafe driver, UC Riverside says, "they can—after safely pulling over—easily replay the video and zoom in to look at the license plate and other identifying marks on the offending car, to pass on to the police. The app even makes it possible to email a snapshot or the entire video to help investigators get the driver off the road."

While fighting to reduce drunk driving is an admirable goal, I see two potential issues with DuiCam: 1) Some users might fail to operate it safely (holding their phones instead of using a dashboard mount), and 2) There will be overzealous users who will video everything that moves and send it to police.

But DuiCam's creator, Frank Vahid, a computer science professor in UC Riverside's Bourns College of Engineering, intends to continue developing DuiCam and is soliciting suggestions for improvements via email (eslucr@gmail.com).

This, of course, is just the latest example of technology being used to combat drunk driving, which killed 9,878 people in the U.S. in 2011, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The good news is that drunk-driving fatalities fell in 2011 from 10,136 the prior year. But "preliminary numbers indicate an overall increase for highway deaths in 2012," Mothers Against Drunk Driving reported last month.

There are a number of apps available that will ballpark your blood-alcohol content based on data you input (weight, types of drinks, amount of time drinking). Among those are Show Me My Buzz, AlcoDroid and Can I Drive Yet?

Another app, called BreathalEyes, analyzes a user's Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN). This is a physical condition in which a person's eyes twitch involuntarily as they look to their left or right. It can be caused by a number of things, including excessive alcohol consumption, so testing for HGN is a standard part of field sobriety tests.

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