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Checkpoint breathalyser – Sweden combats drink driving with Alco-Gates

Drink driving is dangerous. So dangerous that throughout Europe one in four traffic fatalities involves alcohol. Despite the alarming facts, getting behind the wheel after enjoying a beer is not uncommon in many European countries. For those who do and are checked by the police, the roadside alcohol breath test ultimately decides if that last sip (or glass) was one too many. A blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of up to 0.5‰ is tolerated. Go above that and there will be consequences.

Sweden, however, has taken a stronger stand against drink driving, from a low legal BAC of just 0.2‰ to widespread use of alcohol interlock technology (in-car breath tests to unlock a vehicle). Statistics suggest that its strict drink driving policy is effective: with only 27 traffic fatalities per 1 million inhabitants in 2013 (the yearly European average was 51 fatalities/1 million persons!), Sweden’s roads are among the safest in this part of the world.[1] Recently Sweden went even further to ensure driver sobriety with a pilot project featuring so-called Alco-Gates.

For the project, gates equipped with a breathalyser test were installed on two busy ports in the cities of Gothenburg and Stockholm. Ports tend to have a high concentration of drunk drivers due to the number of people who indulge in alcohol during the ferry ride. In fact, drivers leaving a ferry are three times as likely to commit drink driving than the general population. Since the introduction of the Alco-Gate, drivers must prove their BAC doesn’t exceed 0.2‰ before leaving the port area.

Taking the blood alcohol test at an Alco-Gate is easy: a driver simply blows into a breathalyser and the sophisticated system uses infrared technology to determine his or her BAC. Infrared here is key because it eliminates the need for people to have unsanitary contact with a mouthpiece. A sober driver instantly gets the green light and the gate opens for the car to pass through. Another plus: the entire process takes only about 15-20 seconds – less than waiting at a typical traffic light – making it an incredibly efficient way to test a large, high-risk population.

What happens to those who don’t pass?

The system alerts the police to come and handle the situation. Astonishingly, out of 8,745 drivers tested in the first six months, only three lorry drivers and seven car drivers were caught at the gate with too much alcohol in their blood.[2] The hypothesis: Drivers know they’ll have to blow, so they think before they drink.

Sounds unbelievable? Sweden’s drivers, politicians and the general public have responded overwhelmingly positively to the Alco-Gates, so much so that there’s talk of expanding the checkpoints. For now if you want to experience the Alco-Gates for yourself, you’ll have to board the ferry for Gothenburg or Stockholm. But who knows, maybe they’ll pop up near you soon: other European countries have keen expressed interest in the project.

Tell us your thoughts on Alco-Gates. Are they a good way to keep roads safer? Would you welcome them into your community?