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Introduce mandatory breath tests in England and Wales, says study

Parliamentary advisory body says initial roadside checkpoint tests could be carried out by non-police staff.

Introduce mandatory breath tests in England and Wales, says study

Date - 25th January 2021
By - Gary Mason
8 Comments 8 Comments}

Forces should be given the power to conduct random breath tests of motorists at roadside checkpoints with the initial test being conducted by cadets or similar non-full time regular staff, a Government-funded study has recommended.

The report by The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) also recommends that the drink drive limit be cut by more than a third, and reduced to zero for professional and novice drivers.

It acknowledges Section 6 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 would need to be amended to provide a general and unrestricted power to require anyone who is driving a motor vehicle to cooperate with a preliminary breath test.

But the report also points out that mandatory breath testing has been legal in Northern Ireland since 2016 and the passing of the Road Traffic (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland) 2016. The impact of this change on drink driving has not been assessed, though the number of breath tests conducted has increased significantly (27,446 tests in 2015 up to 43,712 in 2017).

The report says: “Concerns have been raised over the introduction of mandatory breath testing in Great Britain because a lack of resources may mean that the police are unable to conduct large numbers of breath tests. Mandatory breath testing, particularly when police set up checkpoints and breath test a high percentage of motorists who pass, is resource intensive and roads policing has been significantly cut since 2010.

“However, introducing mandatory breath testing led to an increase in breath tests conducted in Northern Ireland in 2017 following several years of decline.

“PACTS believes that even limited amounts of mandatory breath testing at checkpoints, undertaken for example during Christmas drink drive campaigns combined with effective messaging would reduce drink driving."

In Australia, breath tests at checkpoints are conducted by police cadets, rather than police officers. Police officers then re-test and process anyone who is over the limit. PACTS says a similar system could be considered in the UK to help reduce the roads policing resources that would be needed to conduct mandatory breath testing.

The report points out that the legal blood alcohol limit in England and Wales has remained unchanged since 1967 and is now "out of step" with other countries.

No other part of Europe has a limit above 50mg/100ml, the study noted. In 2014, the Scottish Government reduced the limit to that level.

The Northern Ireland Assembly passed legislation to follow Scotland’s reduction in 2018, but this has not yet come into force.

Reductions in the limit have been shown to reduce fatal crashes in a number of countries including Australia, Brazil, France, Japan, Serbia, Sweden, Switzerland and the US, Pacts said.

Many of the drink-drivers interviewed for the study spoke about “uncertainty surrounding what the current drink-drive limit meant” and explained they “did not see the point of just having one drink”.

The report – led by the University of Stirling and the University of Dundee – also called for the introduction of increased penalties for drivers who combine drink and drugs.

Researchers also called for the reversal of the reduction in drink-driving enforcement that has occurred in recent years.

PACTS executive director David Davies said: “After 10 years of declining levels of enforcement and social media campaigns aimed at young men, it is time for a new, more comprehensive approach to reducing the toll of drink-drive deaths and injuries.

“Drink-driving is often cited as a road safety success story, yet it remains a major killer and progress has ground to a halt since 2010.

“Not only is better enforcement important but also the issues of mental health and alcohol dependency need to be recognised.”

He added: “A lower limit is not a magic bullet but Government polices to reduce drink-driving will lack credibility as long as they avoid this change.”

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Tangi - Tue, 26 January 2021

When I first started traffic used to carry out road sides tests. That machine AED3 produced a reading for court. It was replaced by the new tests in the mid 1990s These machines could not be taken out of the station. As for the other such as seizing cars and a driving ban before court is suggested. But with the current backlog and the fact that the person may be found not guilty would appear to be contrary to lay.