Friday 18 October 2019

Racing driver Hunter Abbott is on a mission to put an end to drink-driving in Ireland

Campbell Spray meets racing driver Hunter Abbott

Alcohol is a factor in 38pc of fatal crashes in Ireland.
Alcohol is a factor in 38pc of fatal crashes in Ireland.

Just how good would it be to have possibly saved hundreds of lives? And that is not to mention the thousands of injuries avoided, the wrecked lives, lost jobs and broken families that may have been caused.

In a Dublin hotel room last Wednesday, I met Hunter Abbott who believes he may have done just that through the development of his AlcoSense Excel breathalyser which enables people to test themselves to check they aren't over the drink-drive limit or have any alcohol in their system which would impair their driving.

In a survey carried out by the company, more than 50pc of respondents said the breathalyser had stopped them going out on a journey which otherwise they would have done under the influence. And though Hunter is coy about how many of his breathalyser he has sold, he indicates that the survey could translate to "tens of thousands" - I think it is about 60,000 - people who have played it safe and not driven with the classic "drink in them".

But the AlcoSense project was not started for altruistic reasons. Hunter explains his wake-up call from a wedding in 2005 when he was the joint best man with his friend James: "We had been drinking together at the reception, we were definitely merry but I wouldn't say we were drunk; however, we were drinking to three in the morning. We got up and left the hotel at about noon, James went his way and I went mine. I got home safe and sound but later that evening James called. He'd been stopped by the police for speeding, got breathalysed and failed.

Hunter Abbott
Hunter Abbott

"All of a sudden I realised that James and I had been matching our drinks, I too was probably over the limit when I was driving home from the wedding, completely unaware that I was. James lost his licence for 12 months, and then shortly after he lost his job as a result. The problem was that there was no way of telling when the alcohol had cleared your system, and because everyone's different you can't even calculate it."

Hunter knew he had been give an incredible free pass, especially as he is a successful professional racing driver and a conviction would have meant him losing his livelihood as well.

After two years of research and development, AlcoSense was launched in September 2007. And in the past 11 years, many, many accidents have been prevented.

Now Hunter and his company are making a bit of an assault on this country which for many reasons - including little enforcement, low Garda visibility and a perverse sense of denial - is still pretty poor about drink-driving. However, as the controversial automatic driving ban for relatively low doses of alcohol in the system came into effect last weekend that attitude might start to change.

As Hunter's experience shows, many drivers get behind the wheel the 'morning after', unwittingly over the legal blood-alcohol limit, with Road Safety Authority figures showing that one in eight drink-driving arrests occurs between 8am and 2pm.

If you drink four pints of medium-strong beer or four large glasses of wine, it could take as long as 14 hours for the alcohol to clear your system. If you drink between 9pm and 11pm, you may not be sober until 11am the following morning.

The new breathalyser tells you if you are safe to drive
The new breathalyser tells you if you are safe to drive

Alcohol is a factor in 38pc of fatal crashes in Ireland. Studies show that if you drive while at the Irish limit, you are five times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than when sober. Even with just one-fifth of the limit in your blood, you are still 37pc more likely. Hunter hopes that people will use his company's AlcoSense Excel breathalyser which shows your exact reading, so you know when you're clear.

The Excel is a personal breathalyser that enables drivers to make an informed decision about when alcohol has cleared from their system, avoiding potentially fatal guesswork.

In 2017, an average of 180 drivers were arrested each week in Ireland on suspicion of driving under the influence, while enforcement statistics for the first nine months of 2018 show more than 6,500 Irish motorists were arrested due to suspected intoxication.

Hunter says: "Even one alcoholic drink can slow your reaction time, inhibit judgment, reduce concentration and affect motor skills such as eye, foot and hand co-ordination - increasing the likelihood of an accident.

"Following the law change in Ireland last week, using a personal breathalyser could save your licence and, more importantly, could also save a life."

The award-winning AlcoSense Excel uses a smaller version of the identical fuel cell sensor found in several European and US police breathalysers, and can be set to any worldwide limit when driving abroad. In addition, just like police breathalysers, the AlcoSense Excel senses the volume of breath exhaled during the test and takes a reading after 1.2 litres of air - ensuring only the most accurate deep lung air is sampled, with easy-to-read on-screen prompts.

To improve accuracy even further, readings are fine-tuned according to temperature so even if there is the biggest snowfall for 30 years or the hottest summer on record, the Excel will compensate to ensure the correct reading. AlcoSense Excel is manufactured under ISO 13485 conditions, the quality benchmark for medical devices.

The AlcoSense Excel costs €119.99. The range also includes the AlcoSense Lite, Elite, Pro and Ultra, and is available in Ireland from Halfords or via the company's website

After 12 months the devices need to be re-calibrated, and drivers will be reminded of this after 11 months of use. The unit will be returned within five working days, having had a check using a police spec breath alcohol simulator. This can be arranged through the AlcoSense website.

I make no apologies for giving the space over to this topic this week, especially as we are approaching peak party and drinking season.

I liked Hunter. He is man with a mission and even if just one life is saved by somebody using his product over here it will be worth it. Be responsible, for your sake and everybody else's.

AlcoSense Irish freephone number: 1800719310

Sunday Independent

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