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.

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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.



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  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    Why should I have to breath into a device everytime I start a car? I have never drink-drove. It's just another nanny-state leftist idea that victimises the majority because of the minorities actions. Absolutely bonkers if you ask me. You could easily get someone else to breath into it and start the engine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    Far simpler to adopt the Scandinavian practice and set the blood alcohol level limit so low that it means you can't have even one drink and drive.
    That would send out the clear message, if you're driving, no alcohol.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    So long as the car will not start unless you have blown into the device then fine good means of control. Yes we know a 'friend' could blow for them but odds are in most cases their friends will have been drinking the same as them. Given the vast majority have a good attitude to drink drivers this is only a small limitation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    @58 Alan 'angry' Hammond. Shame you didn't read the article before writing your comment (using CAPS LOCK to shout at us, as all good trolls do). Prof Nutt isn't in this Government, he was sacked by the old Labour one for being radical/intelligent. This is one of several suggestions he makes in his new book. Learn to read and spell, then people might listen to your opinion and not laugh at you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    It wouldn't work - far too many ways to get round it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    It's a shame they can't invent an Idiot Sensor.

    That way the roads would be safer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    68. Diana_France They are available from several UK online retailers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    A very poorly thought-out and costly Idea.

    Devices such as these have to be calibrated on a regular basis to be accurate so could not just be done on the yearly MoT. This would be another cost to all motorists for based on the stupidity of the few.

    Aside from that, what would stop someone else blowing into the thing to enable the car to start?

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    @Dibby Scott making the drink driving limit zero wouldn't work as the human body makes small amounts of alcohol even when sober.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    Given the number of obviously genuinely drunk drivers we see around here (B2128 Shalford - Rudgwick) on a Friday and Saturday night, I'd have thought the easiest place to start would be to send an unmarked traffic car up and down there a few times.

    Oh, silly me, that would involve active traffic policing and not just relying on technology to churn out the "aren't we clever" stats.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    What an appropriate name the professor has.......

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    @ 67 name number six.

    and how does this relate to the point I was making?
    like I said, time for some joined up thinking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Also imagine the outcry from the 'human rights' mob to having to give a breath test every time you wan to drive ? Maybe some sort of pin number / dexterity test before the ignition wil work, but there again, I can think of ways that this could be beaten, and I`m not a mastermind, so nothing is beyond being fooled.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    given almost all the people who wouldn't bypass it are those who would voluntarily not drive if they knew they were over the limit it would be almost as effective & much cheaper & simpler to encourage the use of personal testers - something the police & government vigourously oppose

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    What was Prof Nutt on when he came up with this one? Perhaps he should be breathalised.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Fantastic idea. Should reduce accidents/fatalities and stop people from criminalising themselves, and free up police resources. Everyone wins.

    But for some reason I just can't see it happening. Seems almost too logical...

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    We have millions of people driving around everyday without insurance or tax and some don't even wear seatbelts yet he thinks we're going to be able to monitor whether someone has a working breathalyser in their car and that it hasn't being bypassed by a sober friend or secondary electronic device? He must be on drugs!

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    Forget drink driving and start on the most basic level, seat belts. They have been law for donkeys years but people still don't use them (youngsters,taxi drivers etc). get rid of the stupid light/noise and change it to ignition interlock if the seat belt is notworn. Also £100 on the spot fine for not using, 3 strikes, banned for a year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Whilst we have come a long away in reducing drink-driving over the last 30 years or so, we are at the point where the law of diminishing returns is really starting to apply.

    This would cost billions of pounds to tackle the final few persistent offenders - we are at the point where we can't realistically do any more to reduce drink-driving.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Drink drivers are rightly pariahs; they are murders or murders to be pure and simple.

    However persistent offenders will bypass the system.

    Stronger sentences are what are needed to deter would be offenders. I know of someone who has 4 drink driving conviction two of which he got while on a ban.


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