Tuesday 22 October 2019

RSA expert: Pros and cons of breathalyser use to avert risk of drink driving

Message should be no drinking and driving under any circumstances. And devices can give false readings.

Breathalyser - devices can give false readings
Breathalyser - devices can give false readings

RSA expert

It has been mooted recently that the state should provide drivers with breathalysers.

One public figure even suggested that one should be provided to every household in the country.

France was used as an example. That's because, in 2012, they introduced a law requiring drivers to have one in their vehicle at all times.

Subsequently it has emerged that the French have effectively abandoned this law.

While it was initially planned to carry a penalty of €11 in January 2013 the government officially said the introduction of a fine for not having a breathalyser with you was being postponed indefinitely.

Word is that most French drivers now simply ignore this law.

The major problem with it was that the breathalyser devices are susceptible to extremes of temperature (sitting in the glove box of a hot vehicle, for example).

And really they only have a shelf life of 12 months.

When it was introduced in 2012 we were asked if Ireland would follow the French example.

The problem we had with the proposal at the time was that our drink-driving message was, and still is, to never, ever drink and drive.

In contrast the French system was about providing a tool to stay under the limit.

Our advice is not about staying under the limit; it is about advising drivers that any amount of alcohol impairs driving.

So it simply wasn't a practical solution for here.

The Medical Bureau of Road Safety (MBRS), under the Road Traffic Acts, has the responsibility for the approval, supply and testing of devices for indicating the presence of alcohol in the breath to the gardai.

They have provided some useful advice on the use of breathalysers.

The breathalysers supplied by the MBRS are really medical standard devices and for professional use.

They comply with the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) standard EN 15964:2011.

They are further independently approved under Irish law.

There is a separate standard that covers breathalysers used by individuals other than ones used in a professional capacity.

This is EN 16280:2012. A device compliant with this should display a reference to the standard on the product.

There is a wide variety of testing devices available to buy (at various costs): from single-use chemical tubes to digital multi-use devices. To comply with the standard EN 16280:2012 a manufacturer must ensure a calibration period of at least six months, but no longer than a year.

If you are buying one it is important to look for the standard reference, follow the manufacturer's instructions and comply with recommended recalibration dates.

Where devices are set to give an 'over the limit message' you should ensure it is set for Irish alcohol limits:

* one for specified drivers (professional drivers, learner drivers and novice drivers) which is 9 microgrammes/100ml breath or 20mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood)

* and one for ordinary drivers (22 microgrammes /100ml breath or 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood).

Where devices give a numerical reading you need to ensure you understand the number displayed. It may be shown in units other than microgrammes/100ml of breath. For example some devices convert the result to blood alcohol concentrations.

One of the big pitfalls using a breathalyser is that it will give an indication of alcohol level at one moment in time. But alcohol metabolism is complicated and breath levels are dynamic while drinking, and for a substantial period after drinking is over. Therefore, a breathalyser may indicate an under-the-legal limit result at a point in time and a short time later you could be over the legal limit because of continuing absorption of alcohol from the digestive system.

A breathalyser is of value when alcohol consumption has ceased for several hours, such as the morning after, remembering that even really low levels of alcohol can impair driving.

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