I never thought I’d need a home breathalyser. Not because I’m some soberer-than-thou abstainer, but because the drinking I do is indoors, when I know I have no need to go back out. But if you find yourself out socialising with your car keys in your pocket, there’s never been a better time to be a nominated driver.
UK sales of non-alcoholic beer, cider, wine, and spirits are overflowing, with figures showing a 170% growth in the “no and low” alcohol market. From ‘clean’ gin to 0% rum and such mocktails as a Nojito, or Safe Sex on the Beach, all the way to such label novelties as sparkling Nosecco and Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing ale, today’s dazzling choice is a welcome change from the punitive days of bars serving generic coke or warm orange juice for anyone stuck on the wagon.
Sadly though, this imaginative new drinks menu may not be filtering through in the latest road data for alcohol-related injuries and fatalities. The Department for Transport’s figures estimate that 220 people were killed by drink drivers in 2020, despite the pandemic’s broad closures of pubs, bars, and clubs.
With alcohol playing a known part in 15% of road traffic accidents, we’re now witnessing a return of the graph’s line back up to 2009, and the finger is clearly pointing at increased consumption triggered by lockdowns.
All of which brings me back to my Saturday afternoon dilemma. Gripped by a commentary on the radio that suggested my beloved Forest Green Rovers were heading for a rare defeat, I broke my usual habit of not drinking before the evening and somehow sunk two beers. With the ref’s final whistle ringing in our incredulous ears, my son declared there was only one cure to shrug off the news that Crawley had pinched victory: we needed to drive to the nearest park for a kickabout.
“But I can’t,” I say. “Well, not before the beer’s worn off.”
“It might be dark by then,” my son protests. Having no clue what my actual blood alcohol level might be, I suddenly remembered a parcel that had arrived late last year. Alcosense sent me their Pro model to road test, so to say, though such a trial was never one I envisaged for a real-life situation. In a few ticks, I’d powered up and puffed, there being little risk of me messing the test up thanks to this nifty device’s patented “Blowcoach” technology, which handholds you through the procedure. The national location selected and the test taken, any hope I had of lazing around for the rest of the afternoon was dashed: the result showed my alcohol level as per the test was comfortably short of the 35mg threshold per 100ml of breath.
The latter is, of course, the equivalent of 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, as per the police blood test taken after any positive breath test. With the legal alcohol limit in England, Wales and Northern Ireland for driving set as it is, if you were travelling abroad in Europe, you’d need to reset the threshold for legal and safe driving down to 50mg of alcohol.
So why does the UK (apart from Scotland which adopted the EU level in 2014), allow us to enjoy another one for the road? With alcohol being a factor in 12 crashes, on average, per day (and that’s just the number that is known), could the UK’s laxity on booze constitute a fatal complacency?
The road safety charity IAM Roadsmart certainly thinks so. It’s calling for an EU-matching drink-drive limit, speedier roadside testing machines to free-up police resources, and proactive approaches to help drivers with alcohol issues. The road safety charity Brake agrees. “We need to change the culture around drink-driving, starting with more awareness that any amount can be deadly,” states Jason Wakeford, the charity’s head of campaigns. Measures such as ongoing police enforcement and public information campaigns may help reduce deaths and injuries, but the government should follow Scotland’s lead, he says. “Such a move would make it clear to drivers that no amount of alcohol is safe when behind the wheel.”
Come the day that we ditch the law that’s remained untroubled by science since 1967, I’ll crack open the bubbly. A bottle of Tesco’s finest Nosecco, of course.
The Alcosense Pro retails at £149.99 including VAT. Further information on this model and a broad range of choices, from a £2.99 single-use test to the £249.99 Ultra, is available from alcosense.co.uk.