Car Key breathalyzer feature could refuse to unlock your car

Drunk driving kills one person every 52 minutes in the US – which is a good reason for Apple to be exploring a Car Key breathalyzer feature, which would refuse to unlock your car if you’re over the legal alcohol limit.

The US Patent & Trademark Office has today published an Apple patent application for this functionality…

Car Key

We first exclusively discovered Apple’s Car Key feature back in early 2020, before it was officially announced later the same year.

CarKey uses NFC technology to communicate with the car, enabling devices to function as a true car key. Users must place the iPhone on top of the NFC reader in the car during the initial process, and then CarKey will be available in the Wallet app. [Once configured]CarKey works automatically without the user having to unlock the phone or open any app.

It requires an iPhone XR or later, or an Apple Watch Series 5 or later. Support for the feature was initially limited to certain BMW models, but other carmakers are slowly adopting it. You can read more about it here.

Drunk driving

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) outlines the severity of the problem.

Every day, about 28 people in the United States die in drunk-driving crashes – that’s one person every 52 minutes. In 2019, these deaths reached the lowest percentage since 1982 when NHTSA started reporting alcohol data – but still 10,142 people lost their lives. These deaths were all preventable […]

Approximately one-third of all traffic crash fatalities in the United States involve drunk drivers (with BACs of .08 g / dL or higher).

The NHTSA recommends a five-point plan to US drivers:

  1. Plan your safe ride home before you start the party, choose a non-drinking friend as a designated driver.
  2. If someone you know has been drinking, do not let that person get behind the wheel. Take their keys and help them arrange a sober ride home.
  3. If you drink, do not drive for any reason. Call a taxi, a ride-hailing service, or a sober friend.
  4. If you’re hosting a party where alcohol will be served, make sure all guests leave with a sober driver.
  5. Always wear your seat belt – it’s your best defense against impaired drivers.

Car Key breathalyzer patent application

Apple’s patent application describes how the Car Key feature could be enhanced to require communication with a breathalyzer. If the reading is too high, Car Key could either refuse to unlock the car doors, or allow entry but prevent the car from moving.

In some embodiments, if a user attempts to remove the temporary restriction on the secure credential prior to the predetermined time period lapsing, one or more unlocking criteria must be satisfied before the temporary restriction can be removed. For example, the one or more unlocking criteria can include one or more biometric criteria (eg, a blood alcohol level below a threshold value). In response to detecting input, electronic device displays notification instructing a user to breathe into a breathalyzer (eg, a breathalyzer that is in wireless or wired communication with device) […]

Electronic device receives biometric information indicating that the user’s blood alcohol level is 0.00, which falls below the threshold value. Based on the determination that the user’s blood alcohol level satisfies one or more biometric criteria, electronic device displays indication and removes restrictions on the secure credential.

In contrast, electronic device receives biometric information indicating that the user’s blood alcohol level is 0.08, which does not fall below the threshold value. Based on the determination that the user’s blood alcohol level does not satisfy the one or more biometric criteria, electronic device displays indication, and maintains restrictions on the secure credential.

Low-cost wireless breathalyzers have been available for many years – I reviewed a keyfob-size one back in 2014.

It is possible in the US for someone convicted of drunk driving to be required to have a breathalyzer fitted to their car after they have served a driving ban or prison sentence, which does not allow the vehicle to be started unless the reading is well below the legal limit. As Car Key becomes a standard feature, this tech could make it much easier to impose such conditions on all those convicted.

We of course add our usual patent disclaimer: Apple patents a great number of ideas, most of which never make it into products – but I very much hope this one does.

Via Patently Apple

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