Drink-drive loophole to be closed
Road Safety minister Steven Hammond revealed a package of proposals that includes removing a driver's right to demand that a blood or urine sample be taken if their breath-test reading is slightly above the limit.
Ministers believe that this would close a loophole that results in many drink-drivers escaping punishment because their blood/alcohol reading falls while they're waiting for a blood or urine sample to be taken.
Currently, drivers can invoke their statutory right to a blood or urine test if they are over the legal limit of 35 micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath, but their sample records less than 50 micrograms per 100 millilitres.
Ministers believe that improvements in the accuracy of breath-test technology mean that this option is no longer necessary.
The Government is also proposing to remove the preliminary roadside breath test. This is the test that police take at the roadside to ascertain if the driver has been drinking, before testing them again on a fully calibrated machine at the police station.
However, the Government believes that mobile 'evidential' testing devices could perform to the same level as machines in the police station, making preliminary roadside testing obsolete. The new method would also cut the time between drivers being stopped and having an evidential test taken.
Mr Hammond said: 'We have made great progress in tackling drink-drivers, and the 2011 fatality figure for drink and drive accidents is the second lowest ever recorded.
However, more needs to be done to eradicate this menace. That is why we are taking forward a package of measures to streamline enforcement against drink driving.'
The AA welcomed the proposals. Paul Watters, head of AA public affairs said: 'The key to this new approach is to reduce the chances that dangerously inebriated drivers can string out the period of testing in the hope that the final test is just below the limit and they escape prosecution – to pose a risk to other road users another day.
'The withdrawal of the statutory option for drivers with lower levels of alcohol in their breath to ask for a blood test is a natural progression with roadside evidential testing in place. This will save police time by allowing swifter processing.'
Any implementation of these plans depend on the approval of mobile breath testing devices, which are still subject to type approval by the Centre for Applied Science and Technology.
The Government also wants more healthcare professionals given the power to take evidential blood samples in hospitals, and to assess whether a driver is under the influence of drugs.
By Pete Barden