Official figures released today show that the number of roadside breath tests are at their lowest point since 2002, despite road casualty figures in Britain showing an increase in deaths caused by intoxicated motorists.
Just 285,380 roadside breath tests were conducted by police in England and Wales in 2019 compared to 322,769 the year previous – a decline of 11.6 per cent. However, the rate of positive results was the highest it’s been since 2007.
The decline in breathalyser assessments is despite the latest government statistics revealing that drink-drive related casualty rates in Britain are on the rise.
While breath checks were at a statistical low, fines issued by the police for speeding were up by 8 per cent, Home Office data confirmed.
Just 285,380 roadside breath tests were conducted by police in England and Wales in 2019 compared to 322,769 the year previous
Final estimates published by the Department for Transport last month show that in 2018 approximately 240 people died in accidents in Great Britain where at least one driver or rider was over the drink drive limit.
An estimated 8,680 people were killed or injured when at least one driver was over the drink-drive limit.
This represents an increase of one per cent from 8,600 in 2017, but is still four per cent lower than the level in 2016.
Of the 285,380 tests conducted by officers in England and Wales last year, 16 per cent of drivers were over the limit, the Home Office data said.
That’s the highest proportion of positive tests on record since 2007.
The numbers also show a huge spike in roadside breath checks carried out in December as part of tougher enforcement levels during the festive season, though the percentage of positive tests is lower than any other month in the year.
Breath tests conducted by police in England and Wales have dropped to their lowest level since 2002, the Home Office confirmed today
The most worrying chart shows that while tests are on a massive decline, the percentage of positive results have been surging year-on-year since 2012
Latest DfT stats show that drink-drive related deaths have flat-lined since 2010, though there was an increase in the number of total casualties (including serious injuries) in 2018
Safety groups said the ‘worrying’ decline in roadside breathalyser tests is due to reduced road policing.
A report published by the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) in June stated there was an 18 per cent reduction in the number of dedicated roads policing officers in England and Wales between 2015 and 2019.
Edmund King, AA president said the new breath test figures ‘only highlights the massive reduction in the number of specialist traffic officers on our roads’.
Hunter Abbott, managing director of breathalyser firm AlcoSense and a member of PACTS expressed his concerns to This is Money that more tests should be carried out on motorists, especially during the pandemic.
Home Office figures clearly show the increase in breath tests conducted by police as part of campaigns to crackdown on drink driving during the festive period
But while police in England and Wales carried out far more tests in December, there was a significantly lower rate of positive results
‘With several studies showing people drinking more alcohol since Covid struck, roadside tests should now be stepped up,’ he explained.
‘But without more traffic police, testing will continue to spiral downwards.
‘The latest government figures show 8,860 people killed or injured on the roads due to drink driving.
‘There’s a direct correlation between the increase in casualties and the decrease in law enforcement.’
Road safety chiefs are already looking at ways to reduce road casualties in Britain, including tougher restrictions on novice drivers and the introduction of ‘alcolocks’ for previously-convicted drink drivers.
The devices are installed in cars and force motorists to pass a breathalyser test before the engine will start.
They will also look at issuing police with more advanced breath tests from next year, which can give more accurate readings.
‘Alcolocks’, which force previously-convicted drink drivers to pass a breath test before they drive, could be introduced after government figures revealed a rise in crashes involving motorists over the legal alcohol limit
While the newly published Home Office data showed a decline in roadside breath tests, it revealed that other offence types had increased.
The stats show that more than 2.2 million speeding fines were issued to drivers last year – an increase of 7.8 per cent compared to 2018.
Police also targeted careless driving and car occupants not wearing a seatbelt which have significantly increased between 2018 and 2019, up 33.5 per cent and 84.3 per cent respectively.
By contrast, the number of fines issued for using a handheld mobile phone dropped by more than a quarter (26.5 per cent), which is also as a result of tougher penalties for motorists caught using devices at the wheel.
Road safety chiefs are reportedly looking to issue police with more advanced breath tests from next year, which can give more accurate readings than the devices being used currently (image of older breathalyser device from 2006)
Commenting on the data, Edmund King said: ‘While cameras are a useful tool in helping police our roads, we cannot solely rely on them.
‘A camera cannot stop a drink driver, or pull over someone driving carelessly, so having more cops in cars will help eliminate poor and dangerous driving.
‘The lack of roads police has led to drivers thinking they can get away with certain offences.
‘Our AA Populus survey of 20,410 respondents in November 2018 found that more than two thirds (69 per cent) say it is unlikely they would be caught driving carelessly where they live, while two fifths (43 per cent) say they could drive without insurance and feel they wouldn’t be caught.’
King added that the AA is calling for the government to set a an optimistic target of zero road deaths by the end of the decade, but warned that this can only be reached with more policing, increased road safety campaigns and road safety being made part of the national curriculum.