by IRU

Addressing road safety through zero alcohol limits, on-board control through alcolocks and preliminary IRU observations on likely EU legislative action in this area.


EU political impetus for action in this area

At its plenary session held on 26 September 2011, the European Parliament (EP) adopted an own-initiative report (Rapporteur, Dieter-Lebrecht Koch, EPP, DE) on European road safety 2010-2020. The report can be downloaded from the EP’s website at

The report comprises a set of 104 recommendations and observations touching upon an extended range of road safety-related issues, many with a potential direct impact on commercial road transport’s market and legislative framework. These include general objectives such as: An endorsement by the EP for the objective of halving the number of road deaths by 2020, whilst adding other specific objectives related to children, pedestrians, etc; The necessity, for the European Commission, (EC) to establish a fully-fledged action programme, set of measures, timetables and monitoring to implement the measures; The necessity to analyse the causes of accidents in a genuine multi-disciplinary way;

The report also contains specific proposed measures relating to road safety and alcohol. The need for an EU-wide harmonised blood alcohol limit and a zero limit for professional drivers at all times; A call for alcolocks to be mandatorily fitted ‘to all new types of commercial passenger and goods vehicles’ and for the EC ‘to prepare, by 2013, a proposal for a Directive for the fitting of alcolocks, including the relevant specifications for its technical implementation’.


1.  Current legal limits on Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)

Most countries have set legal limits for maximum Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) in drivers. A Chinese law of May 2011 mandates penal detention of up to six months for anyone convicted of drunk driving with a BAC of 0.02% or more. North American countries such as the United States and Canada have a BAC legal driving limits of 0.08% while in some US states lower BAC limits of around 0.05% are in force.

The BAC limit for commercial drivers in the USA is 0.04%. Commercial drivers are also subject to stricter punishments than private drivers when convicted of driving offences under the influence of alcohol. In general driving ‘under the influence’ of alcohol (DUI offences) is considered a misdemeanour punishable by up to 1 year in jail. If the incident caused serious injury, death, extensive property damage or was a repeat offence it may be considered a felony and is punishable by a longer term in a state prison.

Russia and Ukraine apply a 0% BAC legal driving limit for all drivers while Turkey and Macedonia apply a 0% BAC legal driving limit to commercial drivers only.

Within the EU maximum BAC legal driving limits range from 0% in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia up to 0.08% in the United Kingdom and Malta. In other EU Member States BAC limits are between 0.02% and 0.05%, but many set a lower limit for commercial drivers such as in Greece and Ireland. Germany does so for commercial passenger transport and Austria for those driving vehicles over 7.5 tonnes. In Slovenia, Italy and Spain a 0% BAC legal driving limit is applied to commercial drivers.

2.  Alcohol Interlock (Alcolock) technology

( Please see illustration in annex 1)
The most widely used alcolock technology is a device connected to the vehicle ignition which uses an electrochemical fuel cell to detect the BAC of a driver who exhales into the mouthpiece. If the BAC exceeds the configured limit the device will not allow the engine to start. To prevent attempts to defraud the technology by getting another person to breathe into the device technology has been developed that requires repeat breath sample at random intervals after the engine has been started. If not given, or if the sample exceeds the BAC limit the device will log the event and warnings will sound until the ignition is turned off. However, it will not simply turn off the engine if an acceptable sample is not given, since this could prove dangerous in traffic.

Fuel cell technology is not the same nor as accurate or reliable as the technology used in evidentiary breathalysers (police forces will thus not accept alcolock readings as evidence) but these devices do tend to be cheaper and more specific for alcohol. Devices need to be recalibrated typically at 30, 60 or 90 day intervals which costs around $75 (EUR60) a month in the USA. However some devices in the EU now only require calibration every six months. The price for an alcolock is estimated to be about EUR 1500. With mass production the European Transport Safety Council estimates that the cost could drop to around EUR 3-500.

3.   Alcolock use and Programmes in the EU

Alcolocks have until recently been used most widely in rehabilitation programmes for DUI offenders. In the United States, Australia and Canada the use of such technology for these purposes has been practised for the best part of two decades. Experiences in north America seem to suggest that alcohol locks can reduce drink driving repeat offences by up to 40 – 95%, although the success rate is highly dependent on individual circumstances and may require the permanent use of alcolocks to have a sustained impact, particularly on habitual heavy drinkers.

In Europe, the Netherlands and Sweden have now introduced permanent alcolock programmes for certain DUI offenders as of November 2011 and January 2012 respectively. These follow pre-existing trials in both countries running over a number of years. Finland is currently studying a law to make alcolocks compulsory for all DUI offenders, while Denmark’s Parliament has accepted the incorporation of alcolock technology into the range of possible alcohol abuse sanctions, without specifying a date from which these may be used. Similarly, in Slovenia, the principle of using alcolocks in such circumstances has been accepted but not yet implemented.

Preventative alcolock requirements for school and other chartered services are also being extended within the EU. In Sweden the use of alcolocks is generally voluntary. However, over onethird of municipalities (290) require school buses to be fitted with this technology. Since taxis are also used for school transport it is estimated that 60% of the total taxi fleet is fitted with the technology. Additionally 50% of scheduled passenger transport service vehicles are also estimated to be fitted with alcolocks. Overall it is believed that in Sweden 75,000 alcolocks have been installed in commercial and public transport vehicles.

In Finland, alcolocks have been mandatory in school transport since 1 August 2011. Moreover, the government aims to have a new law adopted by 2014 that would require all commercial scheduled, contracted, passenger and goods transport vehicles to be fitted with alcolocks on a mandatory basis. In France legislation was adopted in 2009 requiring all vehicles used in school transport to be fitted with such alcolocks from 1 January 2013.

4.   Alcolock Studies

The developments described above follow several years during which various countries and other bodies such as the EU have carried out pilot projects and studies into the feasibility of using alcolock technology as a countermeasure against excess drink driving.

The EU carried out a 12 month study, the results of which were published in September 20061. The field trial involved five groups of drivers in four different EU countries. The target groups were Spanish and Norwegian public transport drivers, German goods transport drivers and Belgian drink drivers. The study considered that alcolocks appear to be relatively usable in both commercial and non-commercial contexts and posed few technical or operational difficulties for drivers. General acceptance was considered good amongst those using the equipment. Truck drivers’ clientele seemed relatively indifferent to the alcolock, whereas passenger transport customers appeared to react favourably towards the presence of the device.  As with experience in North America, the impact and effectiveness of the technology was seen to be heavily dependent on the specific circumstances, context and reason for fitting the alcolock.

Cultural and social factors were also pertinent for success. The study was clear that while the consortium decided to test the alcolock as a general preventative measure in commercial goods and passenger transport it stated that: ‘There is no evidence that professional drivers ( truck, taxi or bus drivers) would be more likely to drive after drinking than other drivers’.

The questionability of singling out commercial drivers as a special category for alcolock use is also brought into question by the European Truck Accident Causation Study2. In examining the causes of various accident scenarios from overtaking, to lane changes and driving behaviour at intersections, ETAC’s scientific analysis consistently put alcohol or drug use as one of the least significant causal factors amongst the accidents involving professional drivers.
Other studies and the feedback from trials have brought additional concerns to light. First of all the technology has been criticised for frequently producing false positive readings. The most common being the presence of ‘mouth alcohol’ that has not yet been absorbed into the blood. Apart from alcoholic drinks, mouthwash, cough syrup, or breath freshener can all produce incorrect readings.

Other studies have indicated that even the presence of alcohol in the air of the cab could cause a positive reading. Other users involved in trials have criticised alcolock technology for having a long warm up time, particularly in cold weather and that the operation is generally time consuming. Another concern is that the presence of such technology on board does indeed create a negative impression amongst customers perhaps implying that the driver has an alcohol problem. Lastly, even amongst those companies involved in trials that viewed the technology more positively, many nevertheless found that the technology is prohibitively expensive.

1   ‘Alcolock Implementation in the European Union’



1.   Alcohol use by professional drivers

IRU represents companies employing professional drivers. Professional drivers should not drink and drive. They must also assume full responsibility for their conduct and their fitness to drive free from the influence of alcohol.
The IRU could support a legal zero alcohol blood level requirement for commercial drivers at all times while they are working.

Companies can and do assume their responsibilities by adopting appropriate company alcohol use policies and ensuring their drivers are properly educated on the dangers of alcohol use and the unacceptability of being at any time under the influence of alcohol while on duty.

The industry as a whole as represented by the IRU is also ensuring that a zero tolerance approach to alcohol and drug use is adopted by the industry. One example has been the production of driver safety checklists and information cards. With the assistance of the EC these have been translated into every EU official language and placed on their web site and are also being distributed via the International Transport Forum (ITF) to beneficiary companies and drivers using the ITF multilateral road transport quota system. The aim is to reach every company and driver.

2. Use of Alcolocks
Problem and perception: As attested by various studies, the success of alcolocks is dependent on the context in which they are used. They are not sufficient measures to counter recidivism and heavy drinking problems unless they are permanently fitted.

There is no solid body of evidence or scientific research showing that alcohol use or abuse amongst professional drivers is any more prevalent or more of a problem than amongst other road users. Rather there is evidence to the contrary via the ETAC study which demonstrates that alcohol use is an insignificant causal factor in road accidents involving professional drivers.

The compulsory introduction of alcolocks, uniquely for commercial vehicle drivers as distinct from the rest of the population, could create the misperception that commercial drivers were more prone to alcohol abuse,

Thus use of alcolocks as a preventative measure could only be justified if it were made compulsory for all road users and not specifically limited to commercial drivers.

Technology and usability issues: The IRU is concerned about the reliability of alcolock technology and the high occurrence of false positive readings as highlighted in this document.

Question marks over technological reliability are in evidence from the non-recognition of alcolock readings by police.

The requirement to provide a breath sample every time the vehicle ignition is used will prove particularly onerous for drivers involved in frequent stop delivery operations, scheduled passenger transport services and by taxis drivers, who both have to pick up and set down passengers at regular, frequent intervals.

Devices requiring repeat breath samples throughout the journey – to counter attempts to circumvent the technology – have not been tested for their acceptability amongst commercial drivers and will introduce additional handling difficulties for all. Furthermore such technology would not prevent cheating drivers who could easily use a compliant individual who is present throughout the journey to provide clean breath samples as required.
Commercial users of alcolock technology may be at risk from hygiene issues since they may be required to share a vehicle and hence possibly the mouth piece of alcolock with other drivers.

Costs: The costs of such equipment and related costs such as calibration and recurring certification requirements also remain uncertain but are potentially significant.

However, it could be argued that if alcolocks were introduced for all motor vehicles this would lower the price considerably (it would still be 300-500€ according to ETSC). It might also resolve the problem of how to determine the commercial use of vehicles such as taxis which are originally built as private vehicles, thus allowing alcolocks to be installed at the manufacturing stage as requested by the EP.

Overall Preliminary Conclusion on alcolocks: The IRU should resist the compulsory introduction of alcolocks at EU level unless it is for all road users. Alcolocks should be seen first and foremost as a means to rehabilitate heavy drinkers or DUIs who are now committed to reforming their alcohol use.


IRU members are requested to provide feedback on the observations outlined in this document, no later than 25 January 2012. If you are the official representative of your association for the IRU Goods Transport Liaison Committee with the EU (CLTM), please connect to your IRU Member Dashboard to provide your feedback.

On the basis of the reactions and information received the IRU will prepare a draft IRU Position on alcolocks for adoption by the CLTM and CTP at their forthcoming meetings.

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CLTM/B100739/DVI 11.01.12
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