Driver alcohol interlock survey

In-car breathalysers  | "1,000 drivers canvassed" | Durham Police | Checkpoint





We tend to avoid reporting on surveys as conducted by the government, private businesses, not-for-profit organisations and motoring charities, etc. The reason why is simply that surveys are often used not to honestly elicit the wider (and often uncomfortable) truths in life, but as duplicitous mechanisms intended to underpin existing policies or rules thereby bolstering whatever campaign or modification of the status quo is being planned.


But this one caught our attention, and we figured it was worth a few words. The survey was, we're told, conducted by which supposedly doorstopped (or wheelclamped) 1,000 drivers and asked if they supported plans to introduce in-car breathalysers. Or, if you prefer, alcohol interlocks.


As the name implies, these high-tech gadgets are hard-wired into a vehicle's engine management system. Before being able to start the motor, a driver is required to provide a sample of breath. Then it's green for go, and red for stop—or whatever colours are preferred.


Currently, these gizmos are in use in Sweden, the USA, France and Belgium. And more recently, Durham Police, right here in the UK, began handing out trial versions of the interlocks to repeat drink-driving offenders as part of the force's anti-crime Checkpoint programme.


Of the 1,000 drivers canvassed, we're further advised that 90 percent of them gave approval to the technology—which is both good inasmuch as it suggests that the vast majority of motorists are at least trying to take a responsible and positive attitude to road safety, but not so good if you're also a little concerned about general public trained-dog complacency and the relentless creep of Big Brother.


However, it's worth remembering that the answer to any survey is only as valid as the framing of the question. So naturally, less scrupulous pollsters generally get exactly the responses they've deliberately programmed into their surveys—and even the more honest and unbiased pollsters habitually wrestle with any number of procedural/linguistic/methodological issues relating to his/her interrogations.


In short, surveys are at best always dubious.


But even if you accept that 9 out of 10 drivers really do favour having a breathalyser bobby sitting right there on the dashboard (either as an ignition interlock, or perhaps also as a real time in-car alcohol sniffer), it's odds on that most of these drivers don't have a "problem" with drink driving and are otherwise legally compliant. In which case, the tech is redundant.


Generally speaking, we suspect it's the other 10 percent of drivers who are likely to resist the introduction of such invasive technology. Consequently, in an effort to catch these guys (and gals), the lawful majority is likely to be rounded up along with the unlawful minority and pinned down under the same spotlight of suspicion—in which case we could all ultimately be looking at more complication in our lives if and when the gadgets become compulsory and are blighted by the usual gremlins and software failures that inevitably afflict any kind of computer hardware beyond a desk calculator and a digital watch.



Durham Police Checkpoint. The idea is to reprogram the more low-key offenders such as vandals, shoplifters, street beggars and drunk drivers. But generally, offences related to motoring are not currently on the menu. However, technology is increasingly being used to monitor and control our behaviour. And some folk want it mandated sooner rather than later. The creep is slow, but it's relentless.



Moreover, we wonder how the devices will differentiate between a drunk driver at the wheel, and a sober passenger huffing into mouthpiece for however long in takes to get a reading and fire the plugs. And will a canine breath filter be required to further weed out the hardcore offenders travelling with a compliant mutt on the back seat?


On the subject of Big Brother, it's also worth mentioning that these devices are being conceived/designed with a camera which, if required, will take a snapshot of the driver and fire it off to the rozzers to prove that the equipment is being used as required—and of course anti-tampering alarms are part of the package.


So is all this just alarmist talk? No. The tech is ready, and the legislators and road safety organisations are in the frame. So we'll have to see what awaits us further down the road if and when Parliament sorts out whatever legislation (if any) is required.


Meanwhile, we can see a nice little new-age industry spring up around in-car alcohol sniffers in much the same way that mobile phones are routinely unlocked, that VINs cloned, that passports are forged, that our private mail is opened, and so on and so forth.


First the lock, then the lock pick.


Years ago, the village/town/local bobby used to loiter around outside pubs at the relevant hour of the day (often having been tipped off by a responsible publican or a stand-up member of the local community), and would quietly remove the keys of a vehicle even as a seriously inebriated motorists was struggling to find the ignition barrel—and then calmly and affably escort the drunk back to his waiting wife with the usual finger-wagging admonition.


Today we're facing a full scale, highly sophisticated and increasingly networked invasion of our private lives that promises a better quality of life, but often at an unacceptable (or at least painfully high) price.


Naturally, here at Sump we prefer the cosy village bobby fantasy. But unfortunately we live in the modern world, and sometimes you have to simply get real and suck it up.


It's a problem.



















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