Drink Driving, Falling Police Numbers and In-Car Breathalysers

February 20, 2020 9:36 am
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Austerity. For the last nine or so years, the entire UK has been living in a period of austerity in an attempt to save the country’s money in order for a better future. Our national services have felt a blow from this as cuts and proposed changes being made by the government have completely changed national services such as the NHS, fire service and police force. It was found that the number of full-time police officers in the UK has dropped by 17 per cent between the years 2010 and 2017. Meanwhile, drink driving related fatalities and serious incidents have increased considerably and have now reached a record high in the same period.

The Department for Transport released data in the summer of 2019 which showed that there were 250 drink driving related deaths in 2017, a 9 per cent rise from 2016. The number of serious injuries that have occurred in collisions involving drivers over the legal drink limit has also increased by just over 10 per cent, from 1,250 serious injuries to 1,380.

Further analysis of the statistics conducted by Vantage Leasing Solutions, a car rental agency, shows that the Christmas season typically sees a 20 per cent increase in the number of drink-drive accidents. The managing director Vantage Leasing Solutions, Rob Walker, stated that:

“Drink driving remains a serious issue for UK road safety. Since 2010, we’ve seen a 17 per cent drop in full-time police numbers. At the same time, drink drive fatalities and serious accidents have gone up. While having more officers won’t solve the problem of drink driving entirely, they will undoubtedly help reduce the issue.”

The RAC’s head of policy, Nicholas Lyes, said drink driving figures were “disappointing”. He spoke about how “much more needs to be done to eradicate the scourge of drink-driving”. According to Lyes, the data illustrates that there is no apparent progress has been made for nine years in reducing the number of people killed in road traffic collisions where at least one driver was over the legal drink-drive limit. Lyes stated that: “The [British] Government should be looking closely at all its options, even reviewing the drink drive limit. But ultimately, it is absolutely vital that we have police enforcing laws and increasing roadside breathalyser testing so that law breakers know they will be caught.”

The declining police forces across the UK conducted 411,000 fewer roadside breathalyser testes in 2017 compared to 2010. Of those drivers who were breathalysed, it was found that 16 per cent showed a positive reading for being above the legal drink driving limit. Whilst in 2010 it was found that 11 per cent showed a positive reading for being above the legal drink driving limit. Earlier in 2019 it was revealed that police are facing breathalyser kit shortages.

Hunter Abbott, who is a member of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety and managing director of breathalyser firm AlcoSense, agrees with the statements made by Nicholas Lyes and Rob Walker. Abbott indicated that a 30 per cent decrease in road traffic officers between 2007 and 2017 has had a damaging impact on road safety. Hunter Abbott pointed out that there was a definite and direct link between cuts in police budgets and numbers which has led to an increase in drink drive deaths.

Abbott went on to say that: “Together with the highest drink drive limit in the developed world, it’s a lethal cocktail. A two-pronged strategy of better enforcement, plus a drink drive limit across the UK in-line with the rest of Europe, could save many lives each year.”

But what are the drink driving laws and the penalties if you are caught? Well, section 4(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 states that it is an offence to drive or attempt to drive a mechanically propelled vehicle when unfit to do so, due to the influence of drink. Section 4 states that a “person who, when driving or attempting to drive a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place, is unfit to drive through drink is guilty of an offence.” This offence is triable and can result in a person being imprisoned, receiving a ban from driving and face paying a fine if a person is found guilty of drink driving. An individual may be able to reduce their driving ban by taking a drink drive rehabilitation scheme course (a DDRS) if they have been banned from driving for twelve months or more. However, this is left to the court to offer this to the accused if they are found to be guilty of the offence.

If a person is charged with being in charge of a vehicle while above the legal drink limit or unfit to drive under the influence of drink, the possible penalties include three months of imprisonment, up to £2,500 fine and a possible driving ban. If a person is charged with driving or attempting to drive while above the legal drink limit or unfit because of drink, the possible penalties include six months of imprisonment, an unlimited fine and a driving ban for at least one year, but this can be increased to three years if the accused has been convicted for drink driving twice in ten years.

However, the European Council have decided to make a significant decision in ensuring that all new cars must be fitted with breathalysers from 2022 onwards. The European Council approved new technology that could prevent drink-drivers from starting their engines in March 2019 but has only just been sanctioned by European officials in early November 2019. The UK’s position on this decision is yet to be confirmed, but the current Government has previously said it will mirror European road safety rules post-Brexit.

This means that if the UK government stick to their decision to mirror European road safety rules, then cars made before 2022 will have to comply with the new rules by 2024. A road safety charity called Brake has labelled the decision as being the “biggest leap forward for road safety this century”.

However, the practicalities and details on how car breathalyser protocols will play out are yet to be confirmed. Some breathalyser systems require repeat breath tests at random intervals to prevent drivers who are over the limit to ask a sober friend to start their car. But, the director of policy and research at IAM RoadSmart states that: “Although all new cars from 2022 will be enabled to have an alcolock, it will be up to the UK Government to decide how they are used” and what the breathalyser protocols are to be.

The in-car breathalysers will also be a useful tool for repeat drink drive offenders who are struggling to start safely driving below the drink drive limit after a driving ban. As stated by many officials, it is very unlikely that the vast majority of the law-abiding public will ever have to blow in a tube to start their car. But it is still a technology that could save many lives on the roads and make people even more aware of how easy it is to drive whilst unwittingly being over the legal drink limit.

To have a read of the newspaper articles that have been used in this blog, please look at the following websites:

Our team of specialist drink driving solicitors at Driving Solicitors have the experience and expertise to give advice over any issues regarding driving under the influence of drink. If you have been caught and charged with driving under the influence of drink, or if you have been accused of doing this offence but feel that you have wrongly been accused, get legal advice and help today! Do not hesitate to contact Driving Solicitors on 0203 488 2551 or email us on info@drivingsolicitors.co.uk to get expert legal advice from a specialist motoring solicitor today.

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Written by:  Miriam Rhodes-Leader