A system developed by a team of Mexican students, based on a network of sensors installed in cars, could drastically reduce the number of alcohol-related road accidents.

Alcohol testing via sensors on the steering wheel to reduce road risks

As a response to the increase in alcohol-related road accidents in Mexico – 77,000 accidents occur annually in Mexico according to the country’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography –  a team of eight students from Mexico's Institute of Technology of Cintalapa, in the state of Chiapas, took on the challenge of developing an integrated system for vehicles to detect the level of alcohol in the driver’s blood by analysing his/her sweat..

The system, called AlcoStop, is based on sensors installed on the steering wheel, the gear shift and the seat. By analysing the driver’s perspiration, the sensors can immediately detect the level of alcohol in the blood of the person at the wheel. If the alcohol reading is higher than the authorised limit, the engine will be automatically deactivated, preventing the driver from continuing along the road.

In parallel, the Mexican team, who are studying subjects varying from renewable energies to computer engineering, have developed a mobile app with GPS geolocation which can send a message to the inebriated person’s friends or family as soon as the vehicle engine is deactivated so that one of them can go and pick up the car – and the person – safely.


A number of systems which take a less intrusive approach than the classic breathalyser test for alcohol, involving sensors incorporated into the vehicle, have already been developed. One example is the European Eureka network-backed project run by researchers at Caring Cars, whose system is also based on an in-car network of sensors. Sensors integrated into specially developed conductive textiles are located in the car steering wheel and, through contact or near-contact with the driver’s hands, monitor the driver’s vital signs – such as heart rate – while wearable sensors provide a range of additional information such as his/her level of alertness and emotional state. In similar vein, with a view to reducing the number of accidents linked to driver fatigue, a Swiss student has developed an algorithm which links up with a video camera in order to detect any signs that the driver is falling asleep.

Meanwhile the Cintalapa Institute of Technology team are hoping to turn their study project into a viable business before the end of the year. The system they have developed is currently being supported by the Chiapas State programme for young entrepreneurs. AlcoStop was one of the winners in Mexico’s 2014 National Competition for Technology Innovation in the ‘New Ideas and Startups’ category.

By Anthéa Delpuech