LONDON - Drink-drivers will be forced to fit a breathalyser in their car when returning to the road after a conviction, EU officials have announced.
Ministers want to lower road deaths by forcing convicted drink-drivers to blow into the devices before they are able to start their engines.
The legislation is due to come into effect from mid-2022 for all new models and from 2024 for cars with existing designs.
The move is described by the road safety charity Brake as the "biggest leap forward for road safety this century".
The plans were approved in March but rubber-stamped by the European Council late last week. It is highly likely the reforms will be bought to the UK because the Government has agreed to mirror EU road safety rules after Brexit.
The EU has remained deliberately vague about how the breathalysers would work in practice. Some devices require repeat breath tests at random intervals so drivers who are over the limit cannot simply ask a sober friend to start their car.
The AA said measures would be required to ensure drink-drivers are unable to purchase or drive cars without breathalyser kits fitted as standard.
Software to stop speeding
As well as breathalysers, new cars will be equipped with ‘Intelligent Speed Assistance’ software which can stop drivers exceeding limits and automatically slow down vehicles travelling too fast.
The speed limiter system uses GPS to display speed limits on the dashboard.
The car can be automatically slowed down if it exceeds the limit, although the driver can override the system by pushing harder on the accelerator.
If speeding persists, the car will sound an alert – similar to the noise when a driver is not wearing a seatbelt. The technology is one of almost 30 high-tech features all vehicles will have fitted as standard under the new rules.
Systems will also be able to detect when drivers are losing concentration or falling asleep, and when they are drifting over lanes. Automatic emergency braking will also be fitted as standard. Joshua Harris, director of campaigns at Brake, said: "Drink-driving and speeding are a scourge on our roads and the cause of devastating crashes every day.
"On the eve of Road Safety Week, it’s fantastic to hear that alcohol interlock compatibility and speed limiting technology will soon be mandatory."
Timo Harakka, of the European Council, said: "These new rules will help us to reduce significantly the number of fatalities and severe injuries." The safety features will become manditory in all new models launched from mid-2022. Existing models sold after May 2024 will have to be updated to include the new features.
Motoring groups reacted with scepticism to the rules. AA president Edmund King said: "Advisory intelligent speed assistance can help drivers keep their eyes on the road rather than constantly checking their speedo.
"Drivers sticking religiously to the speed limit still face the threat of smart phone zombies and other unwary road users stepping out in front of them or drunk or distracted drivers crashing into them.
"Technology will play a part but drivers should not rely solely on computers and cameras to drive their cars for them. Until fully autonomous vehicles are on the roads, drivers must keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel."
The European Parliament has claimed the shake-up will save "thousands of lives" and help drivers avoid speeding tickets.