Road Safety News

Report challenges Government approach to tackling drink-driving

Friday 8th December 2017

A new report is challenging the Government’s ‘rigorous enforcement’ approach to tackling drink-driving, after revealing a fall in the number of dedicated roads policing officers and the number of breath tests being administered.

Published today (8 Dec), the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) report says the number of dedicated roads policing officers in England fell by 27% between 2011/12 and 2015/16.

The report says lowering the drink drive limit would be a more effective way to reduce deaths and injuries, rather than trying to enforce the current limit with diminishing resources.

The report shows there were 149,677 fewer breath tests conducted in 2015 than in 2011, which equates to a 25% reduction. It says that if breath testing had been maintained at 2011 levels, there would have been 260,681 more breath tests performed in the period 2012-15 inclusive.

The report also finds that the average roads policing budget for forces across the country has steadily declined from £5.3m in 2011/12 to £4.35m in 2015/16, a 17.9% reduction per force.

The IAS report - based on a combination of FOI requests and published data from police forces in England - calls for a UK-wide reduction in the legal blood-alcohol limit, from 80 to 50 milligrams per 100ml blood. The authors say the lower limit would save at least 25 lives and 95 serious casualties each year.

Despite this evidence, the report says the Government maintains that ‘rigorous enforcement’ of the current limit alone will better address this problem.

The report describes lowering the drink drive limit as a ‘cost-effective, compassionate step’ the UK Government can take to protect the public and relieve pressure on the ‘increasingly embattled (police) forces’.

The RAC describes the report’s findings as ‘a worrying development’.

Pete Williams, RAC road safety spokesperson, said: “Falling roads traffic police officer numbers are stretching forces and one impact of this appears to be a reduction in breathalyser tests which is a worrying development.

“RAC research has found that around five million drivers believe they have got behind the wheel while over the limit at least once in the past year.  

"Our research also found there is extensive general public support for a UK-wide reduction in the legal blood-alcohol limit to 50 milligrams - as enforced in Scotland - or even to 20 milligrams, with six in 10  (59%) British motorists saying they are in favour of this becoming law."

Category: Drink-driving


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Surely you're not saying David, that if any officer, in any capacity, when out and about (emergencies excepted) would ignore an obvious drunk driver or any dangerous driving and would not prioritise it as requiring immediate action? If that's the case, then that is indeed a sad state of affairs and that is what needs addressing, not the job title of individual officers. When there is a collision, there does not seem to be any shortage of officers to attend quickly, who I presume were not otherwise 'sloshing about in the system with nothing to do'.

In my past experience, from PCSOs to local beat bobbies, officers will find the time and enthusiasm to get 'stuck-in' on everyday motoring offences, which includes roadside breath tests, if and when required - spotting motoring offences is not rocket science and I don't believe there is a need for it to be the exclusive domain of specialist or highly-trained officers.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (0) | Disagree (4)

The bottom line is that the Govt. plays the enforcement card when telling the public about drinking and driving, yet it is underhandedly and relentlessly cutting the numbers of those officers whose primary focus is to concentrate upon the enforcement of road safety legislation. Those who think that there are plenty of other officers sloshing about in the system with nothing to do are sorely mistaken. Response Officers are run ragged dealing with other matters.

This deceitful practice ought to be exposed, and if this report goes some way towards that then I say 'Well done'. It is wrong in every way to expect the job to be done without being prepared to put one's hand in one's pocket to buy the tools to do it effectively. The Govt., as usual, wants to eat its cake while still having it. The general public are not stupid and know very well that the chances of being stopped for a breathalyser test are at best remote. Therefore, many of them will take their chance and risk my life in so doing. Sadly, the KSI figures are lag indicators, and the horse will have long departed the stable when its absence is noticed. Cut Roads Policing Units at your peril.
David, Suffolk

Agree (2) | Disagree (1)

Following Pat's view that targeted drink-driving enforcement may be more effective and a better use of resources than random testing, instead of driving around hoping to spot a drunk driver, wouldn't breath-testing drivers after leaving a pub and seen getting into their cars be a better idea? If a different establishment was chosen every evening, word would get around and may be as good a deterrent as any.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire (but with a nice view of the snow-capped hills of North Wales)

Agree (1) | Disagree (1)

There doesn't seem to be any shortage of non-roads police officers available to attend collisions when they do happen, so I would have thought that more - if not all - officers would be encouraged to look out for and deal with motoring offences to prevent these collisions happening in the first place which takes up so much of their time post-collision. Even minor collisions can require their attendance for a lengthy period. The more serious crimes mentioned by Neil are not happening every day, but crashes are.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (2) | Disagree (3)

Seems to me that two different things are being read as one here. Perhaps that is deliberate from the authors who are committed to campaigning to the lowering the drink drive limit?

What are you using as a measure of success?
Breathalyser tests or % positive results (fails)?

Widespread use of breathalyser tests often happens in police anti drink/drug drive campaigns which is good as a deterrent and I have no problem with that.

However, generally the higher the number of breathalyser tests, the lower the percentage of positives (fails) will be. The converse can also be true for targeted enforcement i.e a small number of evidence led ‘interventions’ can produce a very high %age of fails.

A small number of police can catch as many drink drivers with very targeted action as a larger police force can using broader campaigns. So if the measure is the number of fails then it is more efficient use of resources to target known risk profiles/areas.

If the measure is deterrent then wider campaigns with broader, dare I say, ‘random’ breath tests will likely have more impact.

In my opinion, lowering the drink drive limit is NOT likely to be a more effective way to reduce deaths and injuries, it would probably just increase the levels of non-compliance.

...and possibly be the stick that breaks the camel's back for this government's popularity? But that is another story.
Pat, Still snowy in Wales

Agree (4) | Disagree (2)

Whilst I agree with Hugh's sentiment that policing the roads is not just a matter for dedicated Roads Policing officers, the reduction in their numbers is very worrying. Unlike their colleagues in RPU, response police officers have to deal with everything from robbery to child sexual exploitation, modern slavery and everything in between. Unfortunately this leaves them little time to deal with traffic offences. The lack of dedicated Roads Policing officers means that they are now unable to dedicate the time and resources required to support their divisional colleagues as much as they would want to which includes carrying out the large scale drink drive checks of the past.

Roads Policing as a specialism appears to be either misunderstood or not valued but ask any community across the country what their local priorities are and you can guarantee that speeding or road safety will feature somewhere!
Neil - East Sussex

Agree (7) | Disagree (0)

There is often references to a lack of roads policing officers, as if they are the only ones capable or authorised to deal with motoring offences, however there is no reason why any non-roads policing officer, including PCSOs, can't detain and summon up a roadside breath-test (if they themselves are not equipped to perform one) if they see a motorist they suspect of being under the influence. Spotting motoring offences is not rocket science and there shouldn't be any reason to equate the number of 'dedicated roads policing officers' with numbers of offences detected.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (2) | Disagree (4)

Would be better if it were a big fat 0 milligrams. 20 mlgs means having some sherry in the triffle. That's all.
m.worthington Manchester

Agree (2) | Disagree (10)