Could Gadgets Curb Drink Driving?


In December 2015 we commissioned a YouGov study into 2,085 people's drinking habits across the UK, paying particular attention to alcohol and smartphone breathalyser awareness. We wanted to establish:

  1. How much do people know about the lasting effects of a high blood alcohol level?
  2. How many people know about the various gadgets and tools available on the market for monitoring alcohol consumption?

One of the questions focused on how long respondents thought it would take for an individual's blood alcohol level to return to 0 after drinking 6 units. The answers varied from one hour to more than 12 – a significant indication of alcohol awareness, or current lack of. It's a result that could see many people taking risks without even realising it – whether it's texting an ex or jumping in the driver's seat.

Alcohol monitoring tools are now available to make this risk slightly less likely – unit-tracking apps and even smartphone breathalysers have been used to good effect in helping drinkers recognise their limits, but these are still under the radar for a lot of younger drinkers. To know just how unaware people are, we've taken a closer look at the data for these questions.

The Facts

First, let's take a look at the facts.

The rate at which an adult body can return to a blood alcohol count (BAC) of 0 is dependent on a number of factors
Factors include age, gender, how quickly alcohol is consumed, quantity, and metabolism.
The UK alcohol awareness body Drinkaware advises that it takes around one hour for the average body to process one unit of alcohol source
This obviously varies from person to person, and many studies have shown that younger people tend to process alcohol more slowly. However, our survey found that young people gave the lowest times out of all age groups when asked how long they thought it would take six units of alcohol to clear their systems.

Units are used as a common measurement because of the variation in drink sizes. One unit is roughly equivalent to 10ml pure alcohol – for example, there is 1 unit in a single measure of spirits, 2.1 units in a small glass of wine, and 2-3 units in a pint of beer source.

Younger drinkers and BAC awareness

Of all respondents aged 18-24, 79% said that they thought it would take six hours or more to reach a 0 BAC after drinking six units – a reasonable answer given the national average, but likely inaccurate due to the slower processing of alcohol in most younger drinkers. 17% answered that five or less hours would be enough – a statistic which indicates a number of young drinkers potentially taking risks after drinking, without fully knowing that the alcohol in their bodies may still be taking effect.

18-24 25-34 35-44 45-54 55+
5 or less hours 17% 13% 13% 10% 9%

Younger drivers and drink-driving

In particular, this underestimation and lack of awareness may point to a higher risk for young drivers on the road. Even small amounts of alcohol can affect your response times and motor functions, and really the only safe advice anyone can give to those drinking is not to drive at all – even if you feel safe, it's too big a risk to take, not just to you and the people around you, but also to your licence if you are pulled over.

It's also worth noting that blood alcohol level may still be high the next day – a little-known fact, but an important one that's made all the more easy to recognise with a personal breathalyser. If you are planning to drive in the morning, try to stick to your limits the night before, or you could face similar risks.

Staying safe while drinking

There are a number of tools on the market to help drinkers stay aware of how much they've had to drink. One of the most significant in recent years is the portable breathalyser, which can act as a standalone device or plug into a smartphone to provide a quick reading of the user's BAC. However, our survey found that 85% of young people aged 18-34 had never heard of a smartphone breathalyser.

18-24 25-34 35-44 45-54 55+
Aware of smartphone breathalysers 15% 14% 17% 14% 13%
Unaware of smartphone breathalysers 85% 86% 83% 86% 87%

These self-administered breathalysers aren't perfect, but could make the different between whether or not to have that next drink – and many will even give you the number of a local taxi firm if it's time to go home. There are other tools, too; various apps (including the Drinkaware app) allow the user to calculate units consumed and financial cost while out and about.

A tip often shared by first responders is to set an ICE contact in your phone. This stands for In Case of Emergency, and is as simple as putting “ICE – Mum” (or your preferred emergency contact) as an entry in your address book, so it can be found quickly should you need emergency assistance.

Should more be done to raise awareness?

The results show that there's still a long way to go in terms of raising awareness of blood alcohol level and the ways in which alcohol affects the body, but there are plenty of ways we can harness our everyday gadgets to help. Young people are the most responsive to new technology, particularly tracking apps and services – consumer experts Nielson recently found that nearly half of all users of wearable tracking technologies were in the 18 to 34 range [source]. We've seen that there's a clear opportunity for app developers and portable breathalyser producers to promote to younger demographics, and a heightened potential for organisations like Drinkaware to reach out to young drinkers using technology for quick, personalised ways to target awareness.

With this in mind, we'd like to urge all readers – young or not! - to invest in an app or breathalyser. Anything that can help you recognise your alcohol intake and develop a better sense of what's happening in your body is a useful tool indeed, and will help you make far more rational drinking decisions.