A new EU regulation says that all new cars must have integrated breathalysers and speed-limiters by 2022. Existing models sold after 2024 must also have this updated safety technology. The British Government has confirmed the standards will apply in the United Kingdom, despite Brexit.

The landmark ruling, which the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) say may cut traffic collisions by 30% and save 25,000 lives across Europe over the next 15 years, received provisional approval in March but the European officials passed it early last week.

Tried and tested

In-car breathalysers are common in Australia and the United States, where they’re known more often as ‘alcohol interlock devices’, or ‘alcolocks’. Fitted onto the dashboard, the breathalyser needs a clean breath sample before the car’s engine will start. If the driver doesn’t pass the test, they must wait a certain amount of time before they can re-test. In-built chips can let the police know when a driver fails a test or if someone has tampered with the machine.

Some systems need the motorist to give repeat readings at random intervals, preventing drunk-drivers from getting a sober person to start the engine and/or drinking once the vehicle has started.

In a deliberate move, the EU won’t yet discuss the practicalities of how the breathalysers will work but, after doing my research into a common ignition interlock used in the US, I imagine it’ll work with a camera to check that the driver is the person taking the test whereby the camera takes an automatic snapshot of the motorist whenever they give their required sample.

Aside from breathalysers, the recent approval includes several new mandatory safety features including ‘Intelligent Speed Assistance’ (ISA) software, which stops drivers from going above speed limits, slowing speeding vehicles, and another feature that detects when you’re falling asleep, drifting over lanes, or losing concentration.

The speed-limiter software uses GPS data and speed limits from local traffic cameras, displaying the limits on your car’s dashboard.

If you go above the limit, the system reduces your car’s speed and, although you can override the system by pressing harder on the accelerator, if you continue to speed your car will sound an alert, like a seatbelt alarm.

The ETSC has suggested motorists should be able to deactivate ISA software. While speed-limiting equipment seems like something from ‘1984’, it could also help reduce road casualties, so shouldn’t we take advantage of all technological safety developments?

Drive like your life depends on it

People met the ruling, that the European Parliament says will save ‘thousands of lives’ and help motorists avoid speeding tickets, with a mixed response.

The road safety charity Brake describes the new regulation as the ‘biggest leap forward for road safety this century’ and Joshua Harris, Director of Campaigns at Brake, said:

Drink-driving and speeding are a scourge on our roads and the cause of devastating crashes every day.

Mr Harris added it was ‘fantastic to hear that alcohol interlock compatibility and speed-limiting technology will soon be mandatory.’

Despite our government agreeing to mirror EU road safety rules, it’s up to them to decide on how we use in-car breathalysers.

Neil Greig, Director of Policy and Research at IAM RoadSmart, says it’s unlikely the vast majority of the law-abiding public will ever use them to start their car, which may mean the only people who must use breathalysers to start their engines are motorists convicted of drink-driving, returning to the road after a driving ban.

Edmund King, President of the AA, said that ISA can help motorists from always checking their speedometers because even when people are religious about sticking to the speed limit, they still face the threat of ‘smartphone zombies and other unwary road users stepping out in front of them or drunk or distracted drivers crashing into them.’

King said, while technology plays a part, motorists shouldn’t only rely on computers and cameras to drive their cars for them and, until vehicles come with complete self-driving capabilities, people must keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel.

He said: ‘Features such as lane-keep assistance, autonomous emergency braking, and driver-drowsiness warning systems have the potential to have a very positive effect on the number of accidents.’

The AA says something must exist to stop drink-drivers from buying or driving vehicles without fitted breathalysers.

Save your breath

Whichever of the new safety features we discuss, let’s not forget, we the consumer pay the extra to cover the cost of the advanced technology and its maintenance.

Regarding the breathalysers, many unanswered questions remain such as, how the machines cope with false readings from people using cough medicine or mouthwash, and whether drivers need to produce a 0% alcohol reading.

Will the machine register the readings of motorists with poor lung health? Will the regulation extend to motorcyclists, cyclists? Could the technology fail, leaving people stranded, unable to start their vehicles? Will we soon see an in-car system to test for drugs?

Will the safety features help police fight other crimes by reducing their traffic offences workload or will the government reduce officer numbers still further?

Brits might agree with making those convicted of drink-driving use an in-car breathalyser, but for every driver? Should we now presume guilt in all motorists?

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a drink in moderation, but we’re the ones responsible for our actions, so, if you intend to drink, make sure you don’t drive over the legal alcohol limit. Arrange a designated driver or use a taxi or a ride-share service (like Uber).

If you space out your drinks or alternate between alcoholic and soft drinks, you give your liver a better chance of breaking down the alcohol in your system, preventing high blood alcohol levels.

So, will in-car breathalysers turn our ‘nation of drinkers’ into one of pedestrians? At least it would reduce harmful emissions

What’s your view on mandatory breathalysers and speed limiters? Are they a good thing? Share your opinions in the comments.

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