David Nutt suggests alcohol sensors 'in every car'

 
A woman driving a car Under Prof Nutt's proposal, all drivers would have to breathe into a device and be within the legal drink drive limit before their car would start

Alcohol sensors should be in every car to cut drink-related road deaths and injuries, says the government's former chief drugs adviser.

David Nutt says motorists would have to breathe into the devices before starting their car, to test they were not over the limit.

Prof Nutt was sacked from his post three years ago after clashing with Labour ministers over drugs policy.

He later set up the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs.

That body ranked alcohol as a more harmful substance than heroin and cocaine.

He also said people in the UK would be less inclined to get drunk if they were able to smoke cannabis at Amsterdam-style "cannabis cafes".

Alcohol suggestions

Prof Nutt, president of the British Neuroscience Association and a professor at Imperial College, London, said Britain was facing a "public health crisis" of "immense proportions" because of a rise in the number of alcohol-related illnesses and deaths.

Start Quote

You could potentially have it so that was true of all cars - everybody would have to breathe in [to the device] before they were able to drive away”

End Quote Prof David Nutt

Although he welcomed plans for minimum unit pricing in England, Wales and Scotland, saying it will have a "big impact" on heavy drinkers, Prof Nutt said much more must be done.

In his new book, Drugs - Without the Hot Air, he suggests seven ways to reduce the harm caused by alcohol.

They include shorter licensing hours, compelling pubs and supermarkets to sell non-alcoholic lagers and beers alongside alcoholic drinks and devising less dangerous alternatives such as drinks which give people a moderate "buzz".

One of his most controversial suggestions is for the "wider use" of alcohol detectors that won't allow cars to start if the driver's drunk more alcohol than the legal limit.

Prof Nutt told the BBC that some countries used the in-car breathalysers, known as alcohol ignition interlock devices, to ensure that people convicted of drink-driving don't take to the wheel, but he had an even more "radical" idea.

"You could potentially have it so that was true of all cars - everybody would have to breathe in [to the device] before they were able to drive away," he said.

"You hear about terrible accidents when four or five young people die simultaneously in the one car because the driver's been drunk. It could save a lot of lives."

'Worth investigating'

Provisional figures for 2010 show there were 250 drink-related road deaths in England, Wales and Scotland. A further 1,230 people were seriously injured and 8,220 were slightly hurt.

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We are always willing to consider new initiatives to combat drink driving and of course would consider any new research or technology in this area”

End Quote Department for Transport

Robert Gifford, executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Committee on Transport Safety, gave the idea a cautious welcome, but said it would have to go hand-in-hand with lowering the drink-drive limit from 80 mg/100 ml of blood.

"It's certainly worth investigating," Mr Gifford said.

But the Department for Transport said it had no plans to install in-car breathalysers in cars - or to use them to test drink-driving offenders.

A spokesman said: "These schemes are very difficult to manage because offenders can get round the lock by changing the car they drive. We are also not persuaded as to their effectiveness in changing long-term behaviour."

He added: "We are always willing to consider new initiatives to combat drink driving and of course would consider any new research or technology in this area."

Professor Nutt also re-iterated calls he has made previously for drugs to be decriminalised, saying there should be a system of "regulated access" from pharmacies.

Drug laws

He suggested establishing a network of coffee shops, similar to those which exist in the Netherlands where people can buy small quantities of cannabis for personal use.

"I've spoken to a lot of young people and they would prefer to go out and have a joint than get drunk - but they have no choice. "

He said if cannabis cafes were set up in Britain up to 25% would switch to smoking the drug rather than drinking alcohol, leading to less drunken behaviour and violence.

Prof Nutt is due to give evidence in June to the Home Affairs Select Committee, which is conducting a wide-ranging inquiry into the effectiveness of Britain's drugs policy including the arguments for decriminalisation.

But the Home Office has made clear on a number of occasions that it has no intention of liberalising the drugs laws.

 

Comments

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  • rate this
    +13

    Comment number 373.

    Breathalysers aren't particularly quick, so that may get quite frustrating if you were to stall. Car getaways in British movies are going to be a lot less cool as well...

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 371.

    Why do we need a technological "solution" to preserve the fiction that people can drink and drive? Lots of research shows that any amount of alcohol reduces the ability of the brain to make instant (or near instant) decisions. It is precisely for tis reason that mobile 'phones are banned whilst driving. Lets not be hypocritical: you either drink or drive, not both.

  • rate this
    +23

    Comment number 151.

    A "friend" blowing into it is nonsense, if you're too drunk to drive but have a sober friend why the heck are you still planning to drive?!

    I would argue however that it would basically install a zero tolerance policy and make the drink\drive limit redundant. Which, while safe, is impractical and would basically kill country pubs\resturants etc. that thousands enjoy without incident.

  • rate this
    -13

    Comment number 117.

    Why is this such a stupid idea? Why so negative?

    Yes there are ways around it - it wouldn't eradicate drunk/drug driving - but would almost certainly make roads safer. As a systems engineer I assure you increased cost would be negligable (and offset by reduced insurance premiums).

    I'm one of the most cynical people in the world but even I see this is actually a good idea.

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 102.

    Whilst the notion is admirable it would be impossible to put in to practice. What would prevent someone from getting a friend who had had less to drink from activating it for them?

 

Comments 5 of 12

 

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