The government has announced a package of measures designed to crack down on drink drivers who exploit loopholes in the current regulations on evidential testing to give themselves extra time to sober up and get back under the limit before they have a legally-binding test.
Evidential roadside tests
The current rules don’t allow roadside breath testing machines to be used for ‘evidential testing’, so the reading on a Police handheld device can’t be used against you in court. This stems back to when these machines were first introduced and there were concerns over how accurate they are.
This means that drivers caught drink-driving can often have an hour or so to sober up before they get to a police station where they can be tested on an evidential machine. Concerns over the accuracy of handheld machines are no longer relevant, but the loophole has remained — as has another loophole.
‘The statutory option’
Currently, drivers who record less than 50 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath have the right to demand a blood or urine test – despite being over the legal limit of 35 microgrammes per 100 millilitres. This is known as the statutory option, and again harks back to historical concerns over the accuracy of breath-testing machines.
The beauty of the statutory option, from the point of view of a drunk driver, is that it can take some time for a doctor to be available to administer the blood/urine test, allowing them to sober up and possibly scrape back under the limit. Clearly this is unacceptable, especially in the UK, which has the highest drink-drive limit in the western world.
Scrap the statutory option
The government is proposing to close this loophole by removing the statutory right to a replacement blood or urine test where a breath test reading is above and close to the legal limit.
The government also intends to legislate to allow police the option not to perform a preliminary breath test where roadside evidential breath tests are carried out following the rollout of roadside evidential breath testing devices and give registered health care professionals greater roles in testing drink drivers – both of which options would speed up the enforcement process and deal with more drink drivers.
SimpleMotoring.co.uk verdict: These measures — and the tighter enforcement of the existing law that will hopefully accompany them — are very welcome, but they are a poor and inadequate substitute for what is really required: a lower drink-drive limit and regular random roadside testing.
Drunk drivers are a deadly menace and caused 280 avoidable deaths in 2011. Worse still, the number of people killed in drink-driving accidents rose by 12% in 2011, the first increase in 30 years. As the IAM’s director of policy and research, Neil Greig, says, this suggests “that drink-driving could be losing its stigma.”
Research shows that simply cutting the UK drink-driving limit to the EU-recommend level of 50mg/100ml blood would save around 65 lives per year — and I believe the limit should be reduced still further to 20mg/100ml, the level applied in several European countries. There’s simply no excuse for drink-driving, and today’s cars and roads are too fast and crowded for the kind of drink-driving antics that used to be socially acceptable 50 years ago.