Your phone knows if you’re too drunk to drive

| Aug 21, 2020 | Drunk Driving |

How many minutes do you have until your dentist appointment? Your phone knows. How long will it take to navigate Portland’s clogged streets until you arrive at the dentist’s office? Your phone knows that, too. It also knows the details of the rest of your busy schedule, which songs you like, how many calories remain in today’s goal, the answers to every trivia question you can come up with, and much more.

And according to new research, your phone will soon know when you’ve had too much to drink and you could be charged with DUI.

Computing power in your pocket

In a study recently published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, researchers found that the powerful processors and sensors in smartphones can determine when a person is drunk solely by measuring and analyzing changes in their gait.

Scientists took a group of 22 adults, ages 21 to 43, and gave them vodka cocktails adjusted to each person’s weight calculated to produce in each a .20 blood-alcohol concentration (BAC). It should be noted that a .20 percent BAC is more than twice as high as Oregon’s legal drunk driving threshold of .08 percent.

A simple but effective test

The volunteers had 60 minutes in which to consume their drinks. Then researchers attached a smartphone to participants’ lower backs with elastic bands and asked each volunteer to perform a simple walking test (take 10 steps in a straight line, then turn and take 10 steps back).

As participants performed the test hourly for seven hours, the phones they carried measured their forward and backward movements, as well as up-and-down movements and side-to-side.

Remarkable accuracy

The scientists said that the phones determined with 90 percent accuracy whether or not the volunteers were intoxicated at or above or the .08 BAC threshold.

In the typically staid language of science, they gushed that they had “found preliminary evidence supporting use of gait-related features measured by smartphone accelerometer sensors to detect alcohol intoxication.”

More research is needed

Despite their exuberance, they acknowledged that more research needs to be done. An upcoming study will examine whether or not phones will be just as accurate when they’re carried in pockets or held in hands.

The study’s lead author said he envisions that in the near future, phones will be able to detect inebriation and alert their owners to stop them from getting behind the wheel and driving drunk.