New Home Office statistics confirm that the number of roadside breath test performed on drunk drivers fell to its lowest point since records started. Police took just more than 250,000 samples.

A fall in test results last year seemed almost certain due to such a drastic fall in traffic levels caused by the pandemic, but there was also a surprising rise in motorists who were found to have exceeded the legal limit.

A majority of motorists who were tested gave positive results. It is the highest number since 2003, and it suggests an increase in drink-driving.

Rise in positive drink drive samples: A massive 17% of motorists providing breath samples in 2020 were either over the legal alcohol limit or refused to take a test

Increase in positive breath sample results: In 2020, 17% of drivers who gave breath samples were either above the legal limit or declined to submit to a test.

The number of breath tests carried out on suspected drink drivers in 2020 was the lowest since records began

Since records began, 2020 saw the lowest number of alcohol breath tests on suspected drinkers.

Home Office data published this morning confirmed that in 2020 just 252,069 motorists were breathalysed by police – an 18 per cent fall compared with 2019.

It was April when the nation was locked down for the first time that the number of test taken fell to the lowest. 

Only over 1000 samples were collected in England and Wales during that month. This is a decrease of 49% year-over-year.

Although travel restrictions in December were put into place, including ‘tier 4″ rules for London, South East and parts East Midlands starting 19 December, more than three times the number of samples were taken in December than April.

The lowest number of positive tests was recorded during the last month of the year, which is approximately one out of ten motorists stopped by the police and tested. 

Although a drop in testing was expected, it continued the trend of decreasing motorists having their breathalyzed at the roadside. This is a decrease from the 2009 peak of 703,490. 

However, officers were unable to administer the tests as usual. A staggering 17.2 percent of drivers failed to submit a sample or they exceeded the limit. This is the largest percentage in 17 years.

Experts said both the decline in tests and rise in positive samples was a result of fewer bobbies on the beat

Experts say that the decrease in test results and increase in positive samples could be attributed to the fact there were fewer beats.

Despite the slump in volume of tests administered by officers in 2020, it saw the highest proportion of positive or refused samples since 2003

It saw its highest percentage of refused or positive samples, even though the volume of officers administering tests has declined since 2003.

Experts believe that both the decrease in testing and the rise in positives were due to fewer traffic cops. This means there is less roadside inspections and more motorists will likely be willing to break the law in the hope of being caught by officers. 

Hunter Abbott is the managing director at AlcoSense personal breathalyser company AlcoSense. He stated: “Separate Home Office statistics show that there were 3,850 dedicated road policing officers working in England and Wales by March 2021, compared to 5,220 in 2015. This represents a drastic reduction of 26%.

“With ever-increasing numbers of traffic police, the testing curve will continue downwards.

“Studies indicate that more people have been drinking alcohol since Covid’s strike, in particular at home. Roadside tests need to be intensified because of the risk of driving after midnight with alcohol still present.

The month with the lowest number of tests taken was - unsurprisingly - April, when the nation was first plunged into lockdown

Unsurprisingly, April was the month that saw the most tests. This was the first time the country was placed in lockdown.

While the most roadside tests were administered in December, it saw the lowest positive or refused samples taken - around one in ten tested

However, December was the busiest month for roadside checks. Around one in ten samples of positive or rejected material were collected. 

Public Health England’s recent report highlighted that alcohol sales increased 25% in stores and supermarkets in 2020 and 2019, indicating a rise in heavy drinking.

According to recent Department for Transport statistics, the death toll from drink driving accidents on Britain’s roads has increased.

In 2019, there were 2,050 drink-drive fatalities. This is an 8 percent increase over 2018 and the highest number since 2011. There were 230 deaths from drink-drive accidents.

Abbott stated that even with 0.05 milligrams of alcohol per liter (one-seventh the English/Welsh limit), a driver is 37% more likely to get into a fatal car accident than when they are sober.

‘If in any doubt, drivers should self-test with a personal breathalyser to ensure they’re completely clear of alcohol before getting behind the wheel,’ he said. 

This Department for Transport chart maps fatalities in reported drink-drive accidents in Britain from 2009 to 2019

The Department for Transport charts the fatalities of drink-drive crashes in Britain between 2009 and 2019.

Fatalities in reported drink-drive accidents, as a percentage of all fatalities from 1979 to 2019

As a proportion of all deaths between 1979 and 2019, fatalities related to reported drunk-driving accidents have been reported as a fraction

Statistics released Tuesday by the Home Office showed that speeding offenses decreased by 12.9% compared with the previous year, while careless driving fines rose by 5.6%.

Drivers who used a mobile phone while driving were penalized by 2/5 (39%) and a fifth (22.4%) respectively.

Although most offenses have declined, tickets for those who are not wearing seatbelts increased 17.4% and license-related offences rose 10.3%.

Do you think the limit on drink driving should be reduced?  

The RAC called on the government earlier this year to intervene in order to reduce the increase in fatalities from drink driving accidents in 2019.

The existing limit on drink driving will be reviewed. 

Simon Williams, a UK Government spokesperson, stated that all options should be considered, such as increasing enforcement at roadsides, using alcolocks for people already convicted of driving under influence, and looking into the merits of reducing alcohol-drive limits in England or Wales, to align it with the rest of Europe. Simon Williams spoke to This is Money in February. 

Rise in drink-drive crashes on Britain's roads: There has been a 3% annual increase in the number of shunts involving intoxicated motorists, says the Department for Transport

Increase in drunk-drive collisions on Britain’s roads: According to the Department for Transport, there has been an increase of 33% annually in the number shunts that involve intoxicated motorists.

The limit is stated in government guidelines for England, Wales and Northern Ireland as 80 milligrams alcohol per 100 microlitres blood. 35 micrograms are allowed per 100 mgilitres breath. 107 milligrams can be found per 100 mililitres urine.

The limits in Scotland are lower at 22 micrograms per breath and 50 mgs each 100ml blood.

In 2014, the drink-drive limit was lower in Scotland than in the UK. However stricter regulations mean that a single drink will likely push drivers over the legal limit. 

The AA supported the adoption of stricter drinking limits for young drivers last year.

In October, the Transport Select Committee heard that drivers should be allowed to drive for no more than six months from passing their test.

This required a mixture of measures, such as increased use of Telematics Insurance and “robust enforcement” to decrease the number accidents on Britain’s roads that involve young drivers.

The RAC has previously suggested that ‘alcolocks’ be introduced to cars owned by offenders.

'Alcolocks', which force previously-convicted drink drivers to pass a breath test before they drive, should be considered, says the RAC

“Alcolocks,” which make previously-convicted drinkers pass a breath test, are something that should be taken into consideration, according to the RAC

Devices, more commonly known as Alcohol ignition Interlocks, test drivers for alcohol before they’re allowed to drive.

The breathalysers are the same as the traditional ones, and they measure the alcohol content in each sample.

Before the engine can be started, it must first be fitted to the car by the driver.

These systems can be quite different.

If the taken measurement is higher than the limit, then the system disables the vehicle’s engine. The driver will not be allowed to drive the vehicle again until their limit has been met. 

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