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Why every driver should have a personal breathalyzer
TrafficSafe discusses how personal breath testers can reduce accidents and tests the AlcoSense Lite breathalyzer for checking alcohol levels the morning after.
Improvements in campaigning, enforcement and public attitudes have succeeded in reducing drink driving casualties in the UK by about a fifth since the scandalous seventies but still remain unacceptably high even in these more enlightened times when driving whilst impaired by alcohol is universally regarded as anti-social.
UK drink driving statistics
After a run of steady reductions during the last few years, casualties once again rose in 2012 with the Department for Transport (DfT) reporting figures of 280 killed in 2012 as a result of drink driving, an increase of 40 on the previous year.
Department for Transport statistics show a distinct trend during the last thirty years towards the higher levels of “morning after” drink driving offences that are being seen now. According to table RAS51012 from the DfT “reported drinking and driving data set“, 11.4% of drink driving accidents in 2012 occurred between 6am and 11am compared to 1.7% between those times in 1981.
Lower overall numbers of accidents and convictions in that period could be the result of reduced levels of general tolerance towards drink drivers and greater awareness of the dangers leading to fewer people deliberately taking to the wheel immediately after drinking alcohol. Often, those convicted in the morning don’t believe that they’re still unfit to drive.
Within the UK, the drink driving limit is 0.08% BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) or 80mg alcohol per 100ml of blood. In Ireland and mainland Europe, the limit is lower at 0.05% BAC.
It is impossible for people to use judgement alone to determine whether they’re within these limits or not. Myths abound about how many pints of standard Euro-lager this equates to and whether a 50kg 18-year-old will metabolize the alcohol faster than an overweight 40-year-old.
The truth is that there is no formula and these limits can’t be translated into pints of beer, schooners of sherry or even portions of coq au vin. Neither can they be worked out based on how many hours have passed since the last drink of alcohol was consumed.
Road safety organizations are always quick to point out the truth, which is that it’s better to avoid alcohol altogether if you’re driving. But this doesn’t really take into account the morning after and the skewing trend towards more morning after accidents. The law in the UK doesn’t demand that everyone with a driving licence should be teetotal and hence there’s a limit on blood alcohol concentration to distinguish between those that have residual levels of alcohol and those that have had a skinful.
There are valid arguments for reducing the limit to 0.05% BAC in line with the rest of Europe and even 0.02% BAC although all but the most hardened campaigners wouldn’t support a total zero tolerance policy.
So whatever the limit, there needs to be a means of measuring blood alcohol concentration in order to be sure of staying on the right side of the law and keeping the streets safe. That technology has always been there but was either bulky, expensive, inaccurate, difficult to use or not widely available.
Staying safe with the help of technology
Breath testing specialists at AlcoSense have a range of breathalyzers that are affordable, portable and easy to use and TrafficSafe took the AlcoSense Lite model to test over a period of six months.
After picking up the AlcoSense Lite 6 months ago, it’s been passed around the office, flung into briefcases, kept in glove compartments, forgotten, accidentally set off a couple of times when sat on and subjected to the usual rigours endured by portable electronics but it still looks good, works well and even still has the original batteries in it.
The unit is fairly simple to operate although the instructions that come in the box make it seem more complicated than it actually is. It comes with a disposable plastic blowing tube which can only fit in one place. Once it’s positioned, switch it on, press the start button, get ready to blow then when it bleeps, blow with consistent gentle pressure until it bleeps again. It’s as simple as that. It switches itself off and it cleans its own sensors so it’s very low maintenance.
Looking astonishingly similar to the Nokia 3120, try not to confuse it with your telephone. If you do, then don’t bother blowing into it….. just get a taxi.
Interpreting the readings is also simple. The display shows the %BAC figure and a warning triangle if you’re close to the 0.08% limit and a “don’t drive” symbol if you’re 0.08% or over. The display increments are 0.01% and the accuracy is +/-0.2% so it isn’t evidential quality and the decision not to drive should be taken much lower than 0.08% to avoid taking any risks.
Given its accuracy and the fact that the instrument is set to give warnings based on a legal limit of 0.08% BAC, it doesn’t have NF approval and can’t be used in relation to the law in France to carry breathalyzers in the car. AlcoSense have another product (AlcoSense Singles) which are NF approved and which should be used when driving in France.
Extra tubes can be bought for the breathalyzer but we found that the detachable mouthpiece was the only drawback of the device since there’s no clip or holder to keep the tester and the tube together so it’s easy to lose the tube. The AlcoSense Elite model has a built-in mouthpiece which overcomes this problem but is more expensive.
At just under £40, the AlcoSense Lite is an inexpensive addition to the contents of your glovebox and highly recommended.
The AlcoSense Lite is available in the UK from Amazon here: AlcoSense Lite Breathalyzer & alcohol tester-“What Car” Best Breathalyser under £40
Studied Engineering at Loughborough University and now involved in broadcast and technical journalism. Jonathan is based in London and Almaty.
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