Sobering up

September 11th, 2009 by Felicity Hughes

Suntory Fine Zero

Over the next three months Toyota will be testing a system to prevent drivers from starting their engines when inebriated. The onboard breathalyzer system will test the alcohol content in the driver’s breath before they start the vehicle. If the alcohol levels are high enough, the ignition will either lock or the driver will be given a warning.

Since the system will be tested nationwide on trucks from Toyota’s subsidiary company, Hino Motors, it appears that Toyota is targeting companies who need to check on the sobriety of their employees. However, considering Japan’s toughened stance on driving under the influence, it might not be long before we see them in ordinary consumer vehicles. And granted, while this isn’t a first for onboard breathalyzer tech (Nissan showcased an even more sophisticated onboard breathalyzer prototype back in 2007), Toyota might be closer to getting the show on the road.

In addition to stiffer penalties for DUI in Japan, regulations were even extended last summer to punish citizens for riding their bicycles when under the influence. Offenders can now face imprisonment of up to five years and fines of ¥1 million. While police officers are generally rather relaxed about enforcing certain road safety laws, such as allowing cyclists to ride on the sidewalks, according to an account in The Japan Times, the law regarding drunk cyclists in Japan is being taken seriously by both citizens and police.

At least the major beer brewers are tweaking their product ranges to jibe with the changing climate. Suntory is due to launch their new non-alcohol beer, Suntory Fine Zero, on Sept. 29, and it will be lined up next to Asahi’s Point Zero, on shelves since Sept. 1, and Kirin Free, which debuted early this year.

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