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alcolock

noun [countable]

an electronic device fitted to the ignition of a car, designed to stop a driver from starting the car if they have drunk more alcohol than the legal limit for driving

'A high-tech lock which stops drink-drivers starting their cars is to be tried … The alcolock fits onto a steering wheel and requires the driver to give a breath sample before the ignition can be turned on.'

Birmingham Post 5th March 2004

'A trial of alcolocks, initially in the Midlands and Bristol, will test whether people using them are less likely to drink and drive …'

The Observer 29th February 2004

Since the mid-1990s, many US states have been trialling a high-tech device to deal with people who repeatedly commit the offence of driving whilst under the influence of alcohol. The Breath Alcohol Interlock Ignition Device, or BAIID for short, is an electronic analyzer of levels of alcohol in the breath, which interconnects with the ignition and control systems of a car. From October 1999, US law has required any driver with two or more alcohol-related convictions within a specified period to have an ignition interlock device installed in their vehicle. More recently, the European Union has been conducting studies to see if the same device ought to be adopted throughout the EU. In the UK, a trial is soon to take place in two locations – Bristol and the Midlands. The less formal – but rather more catchy – term alcolock is being used to refer to this device.

the alcolock is designed primarily as a deterrent for persistent drink-driving offenders, rather than as a general testing device

The alcolock fits onto a steering wheel and requires the driver to breathe into it, incorporating voice recognition technology (the driver has to hum) to prevent someone else providing a breath sample. If the test shows that the driver has more than the legal limit of 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath, the car will not start. Once the car is in motion, an electronic voice tells the driver to pull over and be re-tested at regular intervals.

The alcolock is designed primarily as a deterrent for persistent drink-driving offenders, rather than as a general testing device to tell motorists whether they have drunk more alcohol than the legal limit.

Background – alcolock

The term alcolock is of course a blend of alcohol and lock. The productive prefix alco- is used by analogy with words like the late 20th-century coinage alcopop, where it means 'containing alcohol'. The word alcohol has its origins in the 16th century, derived from the Arabic al-kuhl meaning 'the kohl', the black sulphide powder which the word originally denoted.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 7th May 2004.

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