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.



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  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    So everyone will have to fit sensors at a cost. Another way of robbing the motorist. What if a passenger set's it off. Another "Nutty" idea from Prof Nutt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    This is ridiculous. It would add costs to our sky-high insurance premiums and penalise all drivers who never drink and drive. The drunk could get someone else to blow into this device for them or disable it. Comparitively speaking the problem of drink driving isn't even that big; we also have drug users who drive, speeders, people who talk on their mobiles etc. What about them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    Despite his name, Nutt does have one sensible proposal. I know of no restaurant that offers an alcohol-free wine. So, if driving, I end up with either water or a drink that just does not compement food. Some alcohol-free wines are very acceptable these days. An initiative in this area would be very welcome.

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    #117 Also an engineer, the main problem I can see is the limitation on getting an accurate reading. Breath tests can give false positives fairly easily, and putting one at the point of using the ignition significantly multiplies the number of false positives you can get.

    It would work if you could get an accurate test to measure intoxication , but as far as I know no such thing exists

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    If this happens then its probably time to emigrate to a country NOT run by ideologists

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    Nutt by name nut by nature, perhaps Professor Nutt should ask Professor Fruitcake to check his theory before speaking; if you are going to drink and drive you would get someone else to breath into the machine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    I have a better idea - increase the punishment for drink driving. Set the limit to

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    I don't really care much for this nanny state idea but it's not like it would affect me and besides, I can think of lots of ways of getting around it if I wanted to. Cannabis, though, he's dead right about that and research has even shown that mildly stoned drivers are less likely to have accidents than sober drivers. Can we please stop letting big pharma and oil dictate what we can and can't use?

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    Breathalysers in cars seems like a good idea to me - it's DEAD easy to be accidentally over the limit due to breathing fumes in a crowded bar or the alcohol taking longer to get out of the system than we think. Just need to remember that the 'safe' limit is different in different countries (including Scotland).
    Some of the professor's other comments, however, suggest that he is aptly named.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    Here's a radical idea that would cost next to nothing and need no equipment installed in any car.

    Set the alcohol level for driving to ZERO!!!

    Then, set the punishment for ANY alcohol found whilst driving to a £10,000 fine and a lifetime ban from driving

    That should ensure people don't 'take the risk'

  • Comment number 129.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    Breathe in a device, but by who?Could it be done by a passenger or by my dog?The device must be designed to prevent foul play.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    Great idea but too many ways around it.
    Isn't it about time that a mandatory eyesight test was introduced for ALL drivers with big fines for those who do not wear their glasses. I have known many people who have bad eyesight, some not realising just how bad it was, who regularly drive. Some have glasses which they don't wear - vanity or stupidness I don't know - some just don't have glasses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    One slight flaw about the "car won't start if you're drunk" idea. You could just get someone nearby that isn't drunk (i.e; passer by, dog walker, a "youth") to blow into it, cars started and you drive off drunk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    And then a gadget to check that you are wearing clean underwear.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    David Nutt is ahead of his time. Although I don't think smoking weed and then driving should be allowed either, we definitely need to do something about the ease at which people can drink and drive now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    I suggest a computer controlled test system.

    "Hi Paul, having you been drinking?"
    "What is 7x9?"
    "Say Floccinaucinihilipilification"
    "Get out and sober up you daft ...."

  • Comment number 122.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    Yes, as well as; 1. stupid/bad driver sensor; 2. unlicenced or banned driver sensor; 3. drug sensor; 4. illegal parking sensor; 5. efficiency and emmission sensor; etc. etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    Just now
    Excellent idea, at a stroke does away with drunk driving. Unlike our pointless and utterly useless politicians who just keep up the pig ignorant 'war on drugs' as instructed by the News of the World.//
    Except it won't.

    And I wish you people would see that the BBC is just as ignorant and agenda driven as the 'inferior' pleb press.


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