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Significant decline in breath tests by police

The number of breath tests administered by the police continues to decline despite rises in drink-drive casualties and fatalities.

Home Office data published in the annual ‘Police powers and procedures, England and Wales’ statistical release shows there were 325,887 breath tests carried out by police in 2017, down 15% on 2016 (excluding four forces who could not supply full breath test data for 2017) and marking the lowest number since the data collection began in 2002. The Home Office said the fall continues the downward trend seen since the peak of 670,023 breath tests in 2009 (also excluding the four forces who could not supply data for 2017).

It follows the recent publication of final Department for Transport estimates for 2016, which show that casualties and fatalities from accidents involving drink driving increased 7% and 15% respectively in 2016, leading to calls for a renewed government focus.

The latest Home Office data also shows that although the proportion of breath tests that were positive or refused had fallen from a high of 19% in 2003 to reach 11% in 2009, it’s been on the rise since 2014 and now stands at 14%.

According to the data, the most breath tests were carried out in December 2017 (63,648), accounting for 20% of all breath tests over the year and coinciding with the annual national Christmas drink and drug driving campaign. The second highest number of breath tests occurred in June, when 36,041 were carried out – 11% of all breath tests in 2017. This is likely to be due to police campaigns against drink and drug driving during the early summer period.

Commenting on the figures, Neil Greig, IAM RoadSmart policy and research director, said: “The police have been telling us that they use better targeted intelligence these days to catch drink drivers so they don’t need to administer so many tests. Unfortunately the continued rise in drink-related casualties suggests that this approach is just not working. With traffic police numbers falling it is becoming more and more vital that the police reassure the public that their focus remains on catching and preventing drink drivers on our roads no matter the resources required.

“The vast majority of the law-abiding public say that drink drive enforcement is their number one priority for the police so more high-profile policing would be welcomed. Reducing the drink drive limit in England and Wales would help reinforce the simple ‘none for the road message’ and, if Scottish experience is to be believed, will not lead to fewer police being available for enforcement work. At IAM RoadSmart we also believe that rehabilitation has a key role to play among hardened drinkers and we support the compulsory sending of all drivers convicted for drinking and driving on an alcohol retraining course.  At present those convicted have to ‘opt in’ on the day of their trial, whereas an ‘opt out’ scheme would ensure far more get the benefits that come from facing up to their addiction problems.”

Written by Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for nearly 20 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day. As Business Editor, Natalie ensures the group websites and newsletters are updated with the latest news.

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