Breathalysers for every car?

BrethalyserJohn Giles/PA Wire/Press Association Images

The government's former chief drugs adviser, Professor David Nutt, has said that there should be an alcohol sensor in every car, so that it couldn't be driven by someone who failed a breath test.

He says it would dramatically cut the number of road deaths and injuries. But would it work?

The idea

Professor Nutt made the suggestion in his new book: Drugs - Without the Hot Air. He said that there should be some form of alcohol detector in every car, that would mean the car wouldn't start if there was reason to believe the driver had been drinking.
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There is certainly an argument for considering it. Nutt said Britain was facing a "public health crisis" of "immense proportions" because of alcohol-related problems, and highlighted deaths on the road as an unacceptable cost of drinking. He said that the technology is available to stop drunk people driving, and that some countries use it in certain situations.

Practical?

A spokesperson from the AA agreed, pointing out that in the US if someone is convicted of a drink driving offence, one of the alternative punishments they can choose is to have a breathalyser fitted to their car - at their own cost.

However, he added: "A typical driver may not think it is a remotely bad idea as it would keep drunks away from driving. However, there are some real problems when it comes to implementation."

He highlights that drunk drivers will simply look for ways around the system. If it is a breathalyser they may get a friend to blow into it, or carry a balloon blown up while sober. If it detects alcohol on the skin against the steering wheel, they can wear gloves.

He added that: "Every time you try to close the door to people trying to find a way around the rules, you make life harder for normal drivers." He drew parallels with the keypad immobilisers which were popular in the 1990s and required a PIN whenever you wanted to restart the car. He says: "Every time you pulled up for a few seconds and stopped the engine you would have to put the PIN in, and after a while it became very annoying."

He concluded that the most effective way to tackle drunk driving remained the presence of high profile police officers publicly catching drunk drivers, and "the increase of social opprobrium that comes with drunk driving."

Insurance

Part of the solution may be an increase in the understanding of what it can do to car insurance premiums if you have ever been caught drunk driving.

Convicted drink drivers could see the cost of their motor insurance premiums rise by a staggering 150% on average, according to research from MoneySupermarket.com. The research found a 30 year old male driver convicted of drink driving could see his premiums rise from an average £472 a year, to £1,175, while the equivalent female driver could see a 133% hike.

Peter Harrison, car insurance expert at MoneySupermarket, said: "Taking the risk by drink driving can have dire consequences; it could lead to a hefty points conviction, a fine of up to £5,000, a 12 month driving ban and even a prison sentence. This will not only make it difficult for you to find an insurance provider willing to cover you in the future, but as our research has showed, the cost of your premium will increase substantially."

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