How to keep drunk drivers off the road

The Alcolock is a £675 device that can be fitted to a vehicle's ignition system. To start the car, you must pass a breath test. If you are over the legal limit, the car won't start

It is 3.30 on a Monday afternoon and I'm drunk. Not because I've had a boozy, old-school journalist's lunch, or because I'm an alcoholic (hmmm, debatable). But I'm drunk for work, for the purposes of research. I'm trying out the Alcolock Breathalyser Immobiliser System.

The Alcolock is fitted to your car's ignition system and, once it is installed, you can start the car only when you have blown into a breath tester, just like the ones the police have, and shown that you are under the limit.

The company that makes the £675 device says they could be used by haulage companies to ensure their lorries are not driven by inebriated truckers; by public transport drivers; by worried parents. And by journalists, in the afternoon.

Oh. I'm not drunk after all. Pass, says the machine, and I can start the car and drive off, right past the school at the end of the road. I don't, because, to be honest, I think I am a bit squiffy, ociffer. I've quickly downed a glass-and-a-half of rioja, and I am certainly feeling it.

The problem is not with the device, but with UK law, which allows me to drive with 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood (or 35mcg of alcohol per 100ml of breath). If the machine were set up for use in most European countries (where the limit is generally 50mg per 100ml of blood), I would certainly have failed. But here, I have to knock back another half glass. It is going to be interesting when the in-laws turn up in 20 minutes.

Anyway, fail, says the machine. Phew, because now I definitely feel as if I probably shouldn't be allowed to leave the house, let alone drive a car. I don't think I've ever been so happy to fail something. And the car doesn't allow me to start it. The device works.

You could get your sober friend to blow into the machine for you. That is not such a great friend, though, and it would then be perverse to have the drunk person do the driving.

What about this for a scenario, though: you drive to the pub for a quick half, but end up staying until closing time, when you stagger out, in your pants because someone has nicked your clothes. You are not going to drive home obviously, and anyway the car has an Alcolock immobiliser. Instead, you'll sleep it off in the back. It's freezing though, -15C, so you will just put the heating on, in order to stay alive. But you can't! The car won't let you, and tragically you perish ... Oh, shut up.


Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

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