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17 per cent fall in number of drink-drive tests on West Mercia roads

By Dominic Robertson | Crime | Published:

Police officers carried out the lowest number of alcohol breath tests on drivers in West Mercia last year since 2007, figures reveal.

Just over 13,000 breath tests were conducted by West Mercia Police in 2018

Road safety charity Brake says the decline is symptomatic of “savage cuts” to police numbers, and is calling for better funding and a zero tolerance drink-drive limit.

Home Office statistics show that 13,096 breath tests were conducted by West Mercia Police in 2018 – an 11-year low, and 17 per cent fewer than the 15,716 carried out in 2017.

Of those last year, drivers failed or refused to do 1,171 – nine per cent of all tests.

In Dyfed Powys the pattern was repeated with the number of tests at the lowest level since 2006. There were 8,339 tests carried out in 2018, down from 11,555 the year before.

Department for Transport figures show that drink-driving contributed to 98 accidents attended by officers in the West Mercia area last year, and 40 in Dyfed Powys.

The drop in the number of tests reflects the trend across England and Wales, where 321,000 were done last year – a record low.

Of those, motorists refused or failed 15 per cent – the highest rate since 2007.

The figures exclude forces in Norfolk, Suffolk, Sussex and the Met Police, as they did not submit complete data for every year.

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Brake says slashed budgets have left police forces less able to do checks on potentially dangerous drink-drivers.

“Couple that with the fact that the number of positive breath tests increased, and it shows that drink-driving remains a serious issue on our roads,” a spokesman for the charity added.

“Brake is calling for the Government to implement a zero tolerance drink-drive limit, making clear to drivers that not a drop of alcohol is safe, and increase investment in national roads policing to provide the police with the resources they need to tackle the menace of drink-driving.”

Nicholas Lyes, head of roads policy at the RAC, said that while the crime is less socially acceptable than in the past, the battle has not yet been won.

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He added: “More road traffic police officers enforcing laws and more breath tests would certainly be welcome, but this should be accompanied by high-profile awareness campaigns.

“The advice to drivers is simple – if you are going out and plan to consume any alcohol whatsoever, leave your vehicle at home and make alternative travel arrangements.”

Police can make someone take a breath test if they suspect they have been driving, or trying to drive, with alcohol in their body.

They can also order one if the driver has committed a traffic offence while their vehicle is moving, or if they have been involved in an accident.

It is a crime to refuse a breath test, unless the driver has a reasonable excuse, such as a medical condition.

A Home Office spokesman said a fall in the number of tests could be down to various factors, including increased awareness of the law, and police prosecuting drivers under more serious offences, or choosing other enforcement methods such as education courses.

He added: “We are giving police the tools they need, including recruiting 20,000 new police officers over the next three years, and making it easier for them to use stop and search powers.”

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