Number of breath tests falls to all-time low

Roadside breath tests have fallen to their lowest level on record, despite the proportion of drivers found to be over the limit at the highest level for almost two decades.

Dec 14, 2021
By Tony Thompson

Data published today (December 14)  shows that in 2020 just 252,069 motorists were breathalysed by police – an 18 per cent fall compared with the previous year. The Home Office says this was largely driven by a decrease in tests during periods of Covid-19 national lockdown and tiers restrictions.

April 2020 saw a 49 per cent fall in the number of breath tests performed compared with April the previous year. March, May, June and November also saw notable falls in tests, said the Home Office.

As in previous years, more breath tests were undertaken in December than any other month, coinciding with police drink and drug-driving campaigns.

The overall fall continues the downward trend seen since the peak of 703,490 breath tests in 2009.

Yet, despite the slump in tests, 17.2 per cent of drivers were over the limit – the highest proportion since 2003.

“Separate Home Office figures show the number of dedicated roads policing officers in England and Wales had dropped to 3,850 by March 2021 compared with 5,220 in 2015 – a dramatic reduction of 26 per cent,” said Hunter Abbott, managing director of personal breathalyser firm AlcoSense.

“With ever fewer traffic police, testing will continue to spiral downwards. Studies show people drinking more alcohol since Covid-19 struck, particularly at home – so roadside tests should actually be stepped up given the danger of ‘morning after’ driving with alcohol still in your system”.

A recent report by Public Health England highlighted a 25 per cent increase in alcohol sales in shops and supermarkets between 2020 and 2019, suggesting a steep rise in heavy drinking at home.

The number of killed or seriously injured drink-drive casualties in 2019 was 2,050 – an increase of eight per cent on 2018 and the highest level since 2011. The figure includes 230 fatalities where the motorist was over the drink drive limit.

“Even with 0.05mg/l of alcohol in breath (one-seventh of the English/Welsh limit) the driver is 37 per cent more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than when 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,” said Mr Abbott.

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