The Times said:February 27, 2007
Random breath tests to hit drink-drivers
Ben Webster, Transport Correspondent
Motorists face random breath testing under government plans to reduce the toll of deaths and serious injuries from drink driving, The Times has leant.
Ministers believe that giving the police the power to stop any driver, regardless of how they are driving, would be a powerful deterrent.
Research has shown that many drivers exceed the alcohol limit because they believe that they can still drive safely and they know that there is little chance of being caught. At present, the police can stop only those drivers who have committed a moving traffic offence or those who they suspect have exceeded the limit.
The number of people killed in drink-drive crashes has risen by a fifth in the past seven years, from 400 in 1999 to 480 in 2005. Over the same period, the number of breath tests carried out by the police has fallen from 765,000 to 578,000.
The Governmentâs review of its road safety strategy, published yesterday, concluded: âDrink driving is still a major problem, with 17 per cent of road deaths occurring when someone was driving over the legal limit for alcohol.â
It will propose a series of measures in a consultation paper later this year, including random breath testing. It will also consider placing a greater obligation on pub landlords, restaurant owners and service station operators not to allow their customers to drink and drive.
Ministers are also considering establishing an incentive scheme for designated drivers, but the Government is continuing to resist calls for the blood-alcohol limit to be lowered from 80mg to the European average of 50mg. The review acknowledged that many bodies, including the police and road safety groups, had called for the limit to be lowered and said that it would keep it under review. It added, however, that Britain had more stringent penalties than other countries that had lower limits. Drivers caught exceeding the limit in Britain get an automatic 12-month ban while some other countries impose only a fine.
Random breath testing has been credited with halving the drink-drive death rate in New South Wales, Australia, and saving more than 4,300 lives.
Rob Gifford, the director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, said: "Giving police this power will make many people think they have a greater chance of being caught.â
The RAC Foundation said that it would not oppose giving the police the power to conduct random breath tests but doubted whether it would make much difference to road safety. Edmund King, its director, said: âTo be honest, they can already stop anyone they like and say they have wandered too close to the centre of the road. If you carry out targeted breath testing, you are more likely to get positive results than testing people randomly.â
The law has been changed to allow breath samples taken at the roadside to be used as evidence in court rather than requiring officers to take further samples back at the police station. But this power cannot be used until a suitable roadside testing device has been approved by the Home Office.
The Department for Transport is also testing alcolocks, which are fitted to the cars of convicted drink drivers. The ignition is unlocked only when the driver gives a negative breath sample