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 339.

    Is this going to be retro-fitted to all cars? Who will pay for that?
    It's not the responsible drinkers who should be penalised by this. It's the small reckless minority. Harsher punishments would be a better deterrent than physical controls. The same applies to lowering the legal limit. the majority of us are sensible enough to not drink when driving.

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    My local pub is miles away from my house - if this happens how am I supposed to drive home after a heavy drinking session?

  • rate this

    Comment number 337.

    If you want to be sure you are safe to drive


    That will of course still NOT prove you are safe to drive.

    Anyone who is "not sure" is not safe to drive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 336.

    Professor Nutt by name, total Nut by nature..... These people will not be satisfied until we are all 'chipped' and monitored 24 hours a day and the thought/ PC/ police have us all totally controlled. We must resist this nonsense and don't give into the arguments 'Well, it's for your own good" or " if you have done nothing wrong, don't worry"

  • rate this

    Comment number 335.

    It would take years for the legislation and then it could only be implemented in newly manufactured cars. Not many drink drivers will want to risk taking their brand new car out after drinking, so it's a long way off before this could have any effect. By the time every car has it, drink driving will be such a socially unacceptable thing to do that only a very small minority would ever do it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 334.

    Convictions based on technological knowledge, experience could lead to breath-taking changes. A brilliant idea which will literally force motorists to respect other road users' safety.This new ethical code could save thousands of lives and injuries. The university professor should be given a fitting award. Police need to continue routine stringent alcohol tests to act as deterrent to drink,driving

  • rate this

    Comment number 333.

    If we're building these into every car, its going to be expensive and passed on to the car buyer. Also, should we really be starting with the assumption that someone is guilty and needs to prove their not?

    I can also see a roaring black market trade starting in disabling these devices turning normal people into criminals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 332.

    1. Blow into a balloon and seal it
    2. Go out and get drunk
    3. Release the contents of the balloon into the device
    4. Drive drunk.

    Why do such impractical, crackpot ideas even get as far as the media?

  • rate this

    Comment number 331.

    What an over the top reaction. I don't drink and most of my driving is to and from work. Installing one of these devices in every car is stupid and going to cost a fortune. Yes it has the potential to save lifes but why punish everyone for the deads of a few? If you want to do selective installation then do it on the people who have been caught drink driving and not the rest of us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 330.

    Half of you seem to be protesting your right to drive drunk, makes me sick to think of the attitude of this country. Driving is not a right, its a responsibility. Try telling the child you just knocked over that your fine to drive, really.

  • rate this

    Comment number 329.

    "No its definitely not fair of them when they ask this" - allowing another to drink & drive (over the limit).

    Thx for the reply. I have not had the loss you have, but support your view fully & hope others will ponder on the question of moral responsibility when we knowingly let another drive when drunk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 328.

    Pirate_UK Had a good idea, I wonder how much of an insurance discount would be possible for people voluntarily having these? Perhaps the government could even subsidise that from the reduction in A&E visits and police time?

    But I'd have no objection to this becoming law for the same reason I don't mind firearms being licensed and controlled.

  • rate this

    Comment number 327.

    A battery powered hair dryer should do the trick.

  • rate this

    Comment number 326.

    What a preposterous idea. I have many a good argument as to why this is a stupid concept, but since this proposal is so ludicrous and far fetched I'm going to give it the only response it deserves: Putting my underpants on my head, sticking a pencil up each nostil and repeatedly saying the word "Wibble".

  • rate this

    Comment number 325.

    @ 308 Le Bloke - What about tailgating, lip-stick applying mobile-phone using idiots?

    Agreed but that doesn't mean it shouldn't start somewhere and then evolve.
    If the Spanish experiment in the wifi driving convoy was rolled out then that would stop tailgaiting. And those stupid idiots could use their mobile as they would no longer be in charge of a moving vehicle

  • rate this

    Comment number 324.

    Serveral Beer companies in Europe have devices fitted to all their company vehicles that if the device detects any alcohol on the driver then the vehicle will not start.

    A bit of an inconvenience if you are the beer companies brewery workers. I wonder if these companies used Prof. Nutt as a consultant?

  • rate this

    Comment number 323.

    What about the delivery driver making short trips? Or taxis/friends collecting people? Wouldn't this encourage people to leave their engines running more?
    Then consider someone walking late at night to their car, they may feel threatened or even be at risk of real harm, good time to be distracted and delayed getting away.
    Thats of course not forgetting the obvious, computer malfunctions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 322.

    This seems like an astonishingly dumb idea, simply on the basis of all the false positives, and illustrates a problem with simply scaling up a test.

    Space is limited, so: 38 million drivers + ~2% false positive rate = 760,000 stone-cold-sober people whose cars won't start. What if your (non-driving) date grants you a compensatory kiss before driving home? What about Listerine? Cough Syrup?

  • rate this

    Comment number 321.

    If there are 30 million cars in the UK and every one would have to be converted at a garage at say £100 each then it would cost £3 billion. To save 250 lives a year that is very expensive and I would have thought that you could spend that £3 billion somewhere else, for example in medical research and save many more lives than that.

    I was surprised that there were only 250 drink related deaths.

  • rate this

    Comment number 320.

    Utter and complete nonsense.

    How much is it going to cost to add to new cars? (A fair bit)

    How much will it cost to open up all the OLD cars and fit retroactively? (An absolute fortune I'd guess)

    It's something else to go wrong...

    Can it be tampered with?

    You can get a friend to blow into the device.

    How accurate is it?

    If the device fails can you use this as evidence to escape conviction?


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