Breath tests down in Northern Ireland - but more drivers over the limit

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

New figures show that police in Northern Ireland conducted 9,343 roadside breath tests during their Christmas drink drive campaign – an decrease of 2.7% over the previous festive period.

Just over 5% failed the test or refused to provide a sample, compared with 4.7% in 2021.

However, according to analysis by breathalyser firm AlcoSense, this is half the number who typically test positive in England & Wales during December (10%).

A total of 308 people were arrested for drink/drug driving related offences during the Christmas campaign, an increase of 3% compared with the same period last year (299).

The highest number of arrests were made in Belfast (54), whilst the number in Ards and North Down halved from 27 to 14.

Males accounted for the vast majority (86.4%) of those arrested for drink or drug driving offences and almost half were aged between 30 - 49.

“We are disappointed that enforcement levels are down, given lockdown restrictions have ended and traffic is back to pre-Covid levels,” comments Hunter Abbott, MD of AlcoSense.

“At the legal limit in Northern Ireland, you are 13 times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than when sober.

“Back in 2011, plans were announced to reduce the drink drive limit from 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood down to 50mg – the same limit that now applies in Scotland. These plans need to be re-examined and legislation brought forward.

Mr Abbott added: “At this lower limit you are still five times more likely to end up in a fatal crash. Even a small amount of alcohol slows your reaction time, inhibits judgement and reduces both concentration and co-ordination. The only way to be sure you’re clear of alcohol is to self-test with a personal breathalyser”.

Data also released today for Northern Ireland show there were 2,923 drink or drug driving offences in the year to 30 November 2022. This figure has increased compared with the previous 12 months, whilst all other offences (other than invalid test certificates and speeding) have declined.

Studies show that alcohol consumption rose at home during the Covid lockdowns, increasing the dangers of ‘morning after’ drink driving.

According to the latest Northern Ireland Health Survey, over half of drinkers (55%) reported drinking the same as before over the last twelve months, but 15% reported drinking more.

Male drinkers (22%) were twice as likely as female drinkers (11%) to report drinking on three or more days per week. Almost two-thirds of male drinkers (64%) drank at least once a week compared with 46% of female drinkers.

All convicted drink drivers in Northern Ireland are now automatically referred by a magistrate to a rehabilitation training course. Those completing the course will see their disqualification period cut by up to 25%.

Penalties for driving when above the legal limit can include six months in prison, a fine of up to £5,000 and/or a ban for at least 12 months.

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