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 119.

    There was once an experiment in soviet army - they installed these breath testers to prevent drink driving. Experiment failed and the whole thing was dropped. Guess why? Drivers would inflate a baloon before they go drinking and then to start the engine they would simply blow the air from the baloon on the device.

    If one badly wants to drink drive - he will, no way to prevent it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    I think Alcohol/Drug sensors should be put in every car that way you don't get those who tell you 'oh a few glasses' never affects me' driving. Obviously its a sensible idea so will never be put into practice - insurance companies make to much out of claims so they will be pressuring against it at very least, and if we can find a way to stop tired drivers from driving accidents will be Almost nil

  • rate this

    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

    Comment number 116.

    Why only alcohol?

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    From what I hear drug-driving is more prevalent and there doesn't seem to be an appetite to address this. How about the police and others enforce the current laws to the hilt before requiring extra gadgetry on the majority law-abiders?

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    Lets have a "tailgate" sensor while we're at it.
    If you're driving at 70mph+, with an object within 20 feet of your front bumper; your hazard lights go on, your car is brought to a controlled stop and the police are notified.
    As a test case, I suggest making them compulsory on Audis.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    A great idea, no one is going to take the car on a night out where they may have a couple if they know it wont start, the being in charge of a vehicle charge may need dropped though since it would be impossible to actually drive, will this bring premiums down though? Nope of course not

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.


    Luckily in this country we have a National Health Service, which also has things called "ambulances" which you can call in an "emergency". You know, rather than risking your own, your daughters and everyone else on the roads lives on driving pissed up to the hospital.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    better public transport and free weed

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    @99.stephenruss - Ah. I see. So just because you have the sense to not drink and drive, it means that we should ignore those who do. If you or a member of your family were killed or maimed by a drunk driver, you'd be wishing we had such a system in the country. It wouldn't seem so stupid, then, would it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    From July 1st this year French drivers need a small breathalylzer in the car. If you know you had something alchoholic, you test youself before driving. If you drink then drive and don't test your alchohol level and are caught by the police the penalties are much higher. Simple, but each breathalyser can only be used once so each test costs about the same as an alchoholic drink.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    So we're all going to have to pay more for our cars because of drink drivers?
    We don't need gadgets we need deterents that work.
    If you drink drive your banned for life!
    If you drive while disqualified your jailed for life!
    That will end 80% of drink driving and leave us just the hardcore few that we don't want in our society anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    I also suspect that this is an example of someone not looking at the limitations of the technologies available. The only way you can get a truly accurate reading of someones alcohol level is a blood test approx 1 hour after the last drink. Breath testing is at best a test to say that something which might be alcohol is present in someones breath

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    @102. Matt
    The friend would be aware that they were getting into a car with a drunk person.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    The effects of drinking may be worse than drugs,but to me this should extend somehow to drugs. Even joint users can be... as dizzy as a bat when they get in my taxi...i'm glad they get a taxi rather than drive.......but what about the ones that currently don't get a taxi...i bet they outnumber drink drivers by 5/1.Why cant stringent spot checks be implemented..harsh penalties regardless of jobs

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Here is a good idea, improve public transport.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    I'm sitting in the garden having consumed 1/2 bottle of wine when my daughter falls through the greenhouse.

    Can won't start due to new breathalyser... Daughter dies!

    There are many, many, other reasons to drive under the influence in the real world.

  • rate this

    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?

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    Nice to see the Editor's Picks reflecting the, er, split opinion here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    88. gruntfuttock
    @ 67 name number six.

    and how does this relate to the point I was making?
    like I said, time for some joined up thinking.
    That 24 drinking is a myth and does not really exist, you can not buy alcohol in most supermarkets hours a day, availability and shorter licensing laws make no difference to drink driving.
    When was the last time you were in a pub?


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