history of breathalysers

The history of breathalysers

Here in the UK, we are under no illusions about drink driving – it is illegal and can land you with a hefty fine, driving ban and/or prison sentence. This is not new legislation, in fact the UK introduced its first laws to tackle drink driving in 1925, where it was declared that it was officially an “offence to be found drunk in charge of ANY mechanically driven vehicle”.

Since then, law enforcement officers have had various different means of catching those who still choose to consume alcohol and then get behind the wheel.

In the early days

The means of testing whether or not a person had consumed too much alcohol to drive were not always very scientific. This used to be based on subjective observations of the individual – i.e. could they walk in a straight line, could they coherently hold a conversation, could the effectively touch their nose with their finger, and so on. Naturally these were subject to challenge and were based on integrity of the officers, so a more robust method was required.

Once scientists discovered that alcohol could be traced in the breath of an individual and within their urine, many years of testing and innovations followed. Many different tests were undertaken, trying to effectively measure the amount of alcohol someone had consumed, by testing:

  • BrAC (breath alcohol concentration), and/or
  • BAC (blood alcohol concentration)

First known breathalysers

In America during the 1930s and 1940s, the amusing (yet appropriately) named “drunkometer”, “intoximeter” and the “alcometer” were all developed. These inventions enabled police to test the amount of alcohol in a person’s breath by collecting expelled breath and combining it with a substance called acidified potassium permangate solution. The way in which this solution reacted enabled officers to assess how much alcohol was in the body.

Things have come a long way since then but the early principles have guided modern breathalyser

speeding questions

If another car sets off the camera, can this affect me?

A common question we often hear asked is whether or not speed camera can make mistakes when recording speeding cars. Many motorists might wonder whether if they are travelling past a speed camera and another car sets it off by travelling too fast, is there a chance that they will be landed with a speeding offence incorrectly?

This is a good question but the answer is that you don’t need to worry. If you’re travelling at the correct speed and another car sets off a speed camera near to you then you will not receive a letter incorrectly, the cameras have back-up systems to ensure that this doesn’t happen.

What are these back-up systems?

The most common type of speed camera present on UK roads in the Gatso camera. These are the ones that you will often see mounted on the overhead gantries on motorways. The first way the camera works is to take two images in quick succession, which enables police to determine how quickly you were travelling between these points. The timing of the images and the distance travelled enables them to calculate your miles per hour.

In addition to this, you’ll probably have noticed white lines painted on the roads underneath speed cameras. This is the second way of identifying how quickly your vehicle has passed between two marked points. Police will look at the exact time your vehicle entered the lined area, and how long it took to pass through the other lines. This also enables a miles per hour calculation to be undertaken.

Although there is a degree of automation in any process such as this, if there are two cars travelling close together and one sets off the speed camera, human assessment of the two recording devices will enable the police to work out which vehicle triggered the camera.

So if you’re travelling at (or under) the speed limit you have no reason to be concerned, even if other motorists around you are exceeding the limit. These systems have been operating for many years, and their readings are accurate and precise enough to be used in courts of law, so you can trust them to correctly identify a speeder versus other motorists.

motorway camera advice

Can overhead motorway cameras still catch you if they’re ‘off’?

Speed cameras on overhead motorway gantries are a familiar sight across the UK, with almost all major motorways being upgraded to ‘smart’ motorways. When motorways become congested or there is an accident, the speed limit is altered accordingly to help streamline the flow of traffic. When a speed is shown on the boards, it is not a recommendation, it is a stipulation. If you exceed the speed shown, you’ll be caught by the camera and will receive a fine.

These cameras are not usually recording an average speed taken over a longer distance; they are recording your speed at the exact point that a camera is installed. Average speed cameras tend to be labelled accordingly and are often installed during patches of temporary road works.

The overhead boards are also used to direct motorists to use the hard shoulder when the lanes are very congested, or when an accident or breakdown requires the hard shoulder to be reverted back to a refuge area. The gantries are also used to alert motorists to problems up ahead – particularly bad areas of congestion that you might wish to try and avoid, or the expected time before reaching key junctions.

Smart motorways were first introduced in 2006, and there are now over 200 miles of motorways in the UK that are controlled by smart cameras on overhead gantries. This is set to double in the near future, with plans for another 200 miles of cameras in the pipeline.

If there is no speed shown on the boards, the speed limit is the national limit. In the case of a motorway, this is 70 MPH due to the presence of the central reservation. So what happens if you exceed the national speed limit when the boards look like they’re off? Are they still recording? Will you still risk getting a fine?

Off doesn’t always mean off

The answer is it differs on different motorways. Generally speaking, the cameras are often only recording when the national speed limit has been lowered. However, some are still recording and if you exceed the limit you will indeed receive a speeding penalty.

This is somewhat controversial, with some motorists believing that they should be given fair warning when a camera is recording and when it is not. However, regardless of how you feel about the legitimacy of this, it is definitely not worth taking the risk. Keeping your speed consistent with the national limit is safest for you and for other motorists, and it will mean you don’t risk receiving an unexpected speeding fine in the post.

If you’ve been charged with speeding then we’re available 24/7 at Motoring Defence to advise you on the next steps and how best to fight your case.  Just call us on 0800 612 4859.

motorway speeding advice

Caught speeding on the motorway – how many fines should I expect?

When you’re travelling on the motorway, speed cameras can often be frequently spotted. Whether these are positioned on overhead gantries on smart motorways, or placed along a length of road works, sometimes we may pass tens of speed cameras in any one journey.

Some of these cameras are standalone, and are recording speed at a given point, while others are designed to track a vehicle’s average speed between two different cameras.

So if you are motorway speeding over a prolonged period of time, and pass many different cameras, does that mean that you’ll receive a fine for every camera that captures you, or will it be aggregated into just one fine?

It depends on how the speed trap has been set:

Speeding fine scenario 1

You’re travelling along a motorway and the overhead cameras have reduced the speed to 50 MPH over several miles. Each overhead gantry has the same stipulation in terms of speed.

If you’re caught speeding through the whole section then it is unlikely that you would be fined from the reading of each camera. The likelihood is that it would be one fine that takes into account that the limit has been exceeded on one particular stretch of road.

Speeding fine scenario 2

You pass through a 50 MPH restricted zone on the motorway and are exceeding the speed limit. This zone ends and then shortly afterwards you pass through a 60 MPH zone on the same motorway. You’re still exceeding the limit.

This is different as you have got two different restrictions in two different areas (albeit in the same strength of road) and you’ve been caught exceeding both. You should expect that you may receive a fine for both of these as they are likely to be treated as two separate incidents.

Don’t assume that lightening won’t strike twice

With this in mind, if you think you’ve exceeded the limit and you are continuing to travel through a continuous strength of traffic calming, the risk of just one fine isn’t a reason to continue to speeding. Ultimately, the speed limits are in force to keep motorists and highway maintenance teams safe, so realising you’re going too fast should be the wakeup call you need to slow down a bit. Receiving one fine or multiple fines shouldn’t really be the deterrent, driving safely should always be the priority.

If you’ve been charged with speeding then we’re available 24/7 at Motoring Defence to advise you on the next steps and how best to fight your case. Just call us on 0800 612 4859.

drink driving ban

How accurate are home breathalysers?

If you’ve had an alcoholic drink and are considering getting behind the wheel of the car, then it is often hard to know whether or not you are under the legal limit. Whether this is a drink you may have consumed earlier in the day, or maybe you’re planning on driving the morning after drinking the night before. Whatever the reason, it is often guesswork whether or not the alcohol has been broken down by the body sufficiently to avoid a drink driving ban.

There is a possible solution to this. It is possible to buy home breathalysers which can enable you to test whether or not it is safe to drive. But can these be relied upon? Are they accurate enough to trust?

Understanding what ‘good’ looks like for home breathalysers

It is generally accepted that these devices can vary a lot in terms of their overall effectiveness, so it is well worth doing your research before you commit to buying one. DrinkDriving.org.uk sums this up perfectly, in their assessment that “prices of breathalysers vary a great deal, as do their reliability, quality and accuracy”.

There are a number of variables that can affect the reading on a home breathalyser, so it is important to be aware of all of these before putting your trust in such a device.

What are the main factors that can affect how accurate home breathalysers are?

  • Whether or not it is used correctly
  • The make and model you have purchased
  • Whether or not there is ‘residual’ alcohol in the mouth

Reinforcing the amount of variation found between the different brands; gadget testing website, the Wirecutter, tested many different home breathalysers over a period of four years, comparing their readings with those taken by official police equipment. Their research considered reviews of over 100 home breathalysers, drawing up a shortlist and testing 15 different models.

If in any doubt – don’t drive

Although home breathalysers could be regarded as a helpful device to have on hand, the Wirecutter sensibly concludes “if you’ve been drinking enough to think about using a breathalyser to see if it’s safe for you to drive, you’re drunk enough that you should call a cab.” The information gleaned from a home breathalyser can act as a useful tool to understand how quickly your body breaks down alcohol, but the best rule of thumb to apply is that if you have had any form of alcoholic drink, it is always best to avoid the car.

drink and drive

Coca-Cola designated driver scheme

Many people will have a group of friends or family where they take it in turns to be the designated driver for a night out at a pub or restaurant to avoid the drink and drive problem. One of the biggest frustrations for the designated driver is how expensive soft drinks can be – often it is as pricey to purchase a soft drink as it is to buy an alcoholic beverage. That hardly seems fair.

drink and drive schemeSoft drinks giant Coca-Cola recognised this frustration and was keen to do its bit to support designated drivers by “offering a free second soft drink on Coca-Cola (including classic Coca-Cola, Diet Coke and Coke Zero), Schweppes or Appletiser”. This was rolled out over Christmas as part of Coca-Cola’s annual road safety campaign. The scheme was a partnership initiative with drink driving safety organisation, THINK! Drivers simply needed to present their car keys at the bar to qualify for the BOGOF on named soft drinks.

Not the acceptable norm

Coca-Cola and THINK! hoped that the campaign would help raise awareness and acceptability of being the designated driver. They hoped it would further reinforce the belief that it is not acceptable to drink and drive, nor is it worth the risk of being banned which is the most likely result of a successful conviction.

According to the UK Government, “the number of people killed in drink-drive accidents has been reduced by over three-quarters since 1979 thanks to more than 30 years of government education campaigns and measures to improve enforcement.” Statistics such as this suggest that attitudes are indeed changing and initiatives like the Coca-Cola scheme are making positive steps to help reduce alcohol-related driving accidents.

As well as being a massive help to colleagues, friends and family, if you’ve agreed to be the designated driver then promotions such as this should certainly help ease the burden on your wallet.

Perhaps pubs and restaurants could take this one step further by offering chilled water to designed drivers to help them stay hydrated throughout the evening when they have had enough soft drinks.

speed camera accuracy

Ever wondered about speed camera accuracy?

Speed cameras have been a common feature across the UK for many years, with motorists now well aware of what they are and what they are designed to do. The signature yellow or grey boxes are well signed and have been installed in many places where it has been found that motorists tend to exceed the speed limit.

So just how do these speed cameras work and how accurate are they?

The yellow speed cameras that we are familiar with seeing in our towns and country roads are called Gatso speed cameras and they have been around since 2007. They now record speed digitally, having previously used film when they were first introduced. The use of digital technology now means that footage can be viewed instantly, whereas previously an operative would need to manually retrieve a tape from inside the camera.

The way the camera works is it takes two very quick photos of a passing vehicle using radar technology. The time it takes for the vehicle to pass between the two points enables the camera to calculate the speed at which the vehicle is travelling.

There is also a back-up method built into the cameras so that there can be no dispute of how fast the vehicle was travelling. This is all to do with the white lines that are painted on the road in the vicinity of the camera. The camera can track how fast the vehicles are travelling between the lines, and depending on the speed limit of that particular road, it can calculate whether or not the vehicle is travelling too fast.

This secondary reading isn’t just simply a backup; it is now a legal requirement to ensure that there is no plausible challenge over the readings and ensure speed camera accuracy.

The roadside cameras are accurate to within 0.5 miles per hour (MPH) so if you have been caught travelling over the speed limit then it is going to offer a very precise measurement of exactly how far over the limit you were. Weather conditions can affect the accuracy, but only marginally. For example, a reading in clear, bright, daylight conditions is likely to have less of a margin for error compared with a foggy, rainy, night time reading – however, this is all taken into account, and still doesn’t exceed the 0.5 MPH expected deviation.

Although most speeding offences result in points and a fine, some drivers might be at risk of losing their licence due to totting where you’ve reached 12 points and results in disqualification for six months. If you’re concerned about the potential loss of your licence and the impact that will have, give Motoring Defence a call on 0800 612 4859 and we can give you free advice on your position.

drink driving legal advice

How much is ‘too much’ when drinking alcohol before driving?

When you’re in charge of a vehicle there is one thing that everyone is now aware of – driving and drinking do not mix. There have been many awareness raising campaigns in recent years that have spelt out the dangers of drinking and driving, which means that there is now a much greater knowledge of how serious it is.

The government has set guidelines that outline the safe alcohol limit and driving. If you do decide that you will consume a small amount of alcohol, keeping under the legal limits, then it is important to know exactly what this equates to.

The legal alcohol limit and driving

The law states that “in England and Wales, the alcohol limit for drivers is 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, 35 microgrammes per 100 millilitres of breath or 107 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of urine. In most other European countries, the limit is less, usually 50 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood.”

This doesn’t make a great deal of sense to the average person, so it is important that this is translated into terms that can be more easily understood. As a rule of thumb, this roughly translates to two pints of average (3.5 – 4%) strength beer/ale/lager. If you’re drinking premium drinks with a higher ABV (pints at 5%, 6%, wine, spirits etc) then this rule won’t apply.

It is also important to remember that not everyone breaks down alcohol at the same rate. Factors such as age, weight, gender, whether or not you have eaten and how frequently you consume alcohol can all affect how you feel once you have had a drink. If you are legally allowed to drink an amount that you know personally will have an effect on you then it is best to avoid it all together. Just because it is legal doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the right choice for you.

Best approach is to play it safe – don’t drink and drive

If you’re planning on driving anywhere, even if it is just a mile or two, the best thing to do with regards to drinking alcohol is to avoid it all together. This will mean that there is no question that your driving abilities or reactions are impaired. If you should happen to be involved in an accident, then you will know with a clear conscience that alcohol was not a contributing factor.

Drink driving is one of the most serious motoring and at Motoring Defence we always recommend you seek legal advise as soon as possible. Call 0800 612 4859 to speak to one of our team, 24/7.

A Court

Another Not Guilty In Salisbury

The firm’s biggest traffic case of the year ended in a not guilty verdict at Salisbury Crown Court.

A serving army officer was accused of causing death by careless driving following a fatal collision involving the client’s car and a van.

Our team supported the client from the initial police interview, through the Magistrates Court and on to a jury trial.

We were able to use independent experts to show the Jury that our client was within the speed limit and it was far more likely that a third vehicle was driven badly and caused the accident.

This was a great result as our client had suffered significant brain damage in the accident and had little recollection of the day in question.

It was therefore all about the technical know-how and expert evidence.


Pete Gotch

Victory at Leamington Magistrates Court

Congratulations to Pete Gotch on his recent victory at Leamington Magistrates Court.

Pete was defending a young man charged with drink driving. He was facing the possibility of a ban and the loss of his job. Pete argued that the client had returned to the car to get some medication and had not driven the car whilst drunk. The client was acquitted.

The client remarked: ‘that was the best money I’ve ever spent!’

Pete also had success at Banbury Magistrates defending a no insurance and no driving license case. He successfully argued mistaken identity. Evidence was produced suggesting that someone had given the client’s name when stopped. The client was found not guilty.

Pete also had success at Banbury Magistrates defending a no insurance and no driving license case. He successfully argued mistaken identity. Evidence was produced suggesting that someone had given the client’s name when stopped. The client was found not guilty.