Motorists to be denied blood tests when stopped on suspicion of drink driving
Motorists who are marginally over the limit when stopped by the police are to lose the right to demand a blood test under the biggest changes to drink-drive law in over 40 years.
Phllip Hammond, the Transport Secretary, is to plug a loophole which enables motorists to sober up while police find a doctor or nurse to carry out the test.
It is among a series of far reaching changes unveiled as part of the Government’s response to recommendations on road safety made by Sir Peter North, former Principal of Jesus College, Oxford.
However the Government has angered road safety campaigners by rejecting Sir Peter’s call for the drink drive limit to be reduced from 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood to only 50.
Scrapping the right to demand a blood test is seen as a vital tool in preventing motorists trying to play for time in the hope that some of the alcohol will have disappeared from their bloodstream.
The Department for Transport estimates that scrapping the right to demand a blood test could lead to 5,000 more drink drive convictions a year.
Initially the change will mean that drivers will have to take a breath test on their arrival at the police station, the results of which can be used in court.
But the Government will tighten the law still further by introducing machines which will allow evidential breath tests to take place at the roadside.
As previously disclosed by the Daily Telegraph, the Government is to introduce drug-testing machines.
The first devices, capable of testing for an array of drugs including amphetamines, cannabis and ecstasy, could be in police stations by the summer, while a machine capable of carrying out roadside drug tests could be receive Whitehall approval by the end of the year.
This would bring Britain into line with a number of countries
At the same time the Government will update the law to bring drug-driving into line with a number if countries, including Australia, Croatia, and Spain where drivers already face roadside drug testing.
The Government is also to update the law on drug driving, creating a new offence of getting behind the wheel with an illegal substance in the bloodstream.
Currently a prosecution can only be mounted if the police can prove if the illegal drug led to the driver’s performance being impaired.
“It is just as dangerous to drive impaired by drugs as alcohol so we need to send a clear message that drug drivers are as likely to be caught as drink drivers and that drug driving is as socially unacceptable as drink driving has become,” Mr Hammond said.
“The number of drink driving deaths has fallen by more than 75% since 1979. But drink driving still kills hundreds of people so we need to take tough action against the small minority of drivers who flagrantly ignore the limit.”
Motoring organisations gave the Government’s strategy a mixed response. “As the evidential test will be conducted much sooner after drinking, there will be less time for the body to filter out alcohol and reduce the reading,” said Edmund King, the AA’s president.
“This, in effect, creates a reduction in the legal limit. The new process will also mean that policemen making an arrest will be back on patrol sooner, increasing the chances of drinking drivers being caught.”
But Adrian Tink, the RAC’s motoring strategist, condemned the Government’s decision not to cut the drink drive limit
“It’s disappointing news, especially as the Government had a clear mandate from motorists to reduce the legal limit – nearly 90% of drivers told us in last year’s RAC Report on Motoring that they backed a reduction in the limit.
“It really is a missed opportunity to re-enforce that the message that drink-driving is unacceptable.”
Robert Gifford, executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, accused the of missing an opportunity to save lives.
“A new lower limit would have helped to support that view, making clear that drinking and driving do not mix,” he said.
“The Government has chosen to ignore this and the clear link between alcohol consumption above 50mg and the increased likelihood of crash involvement.”
Louise Ellman, the chairman of the all-party Transport Select Committee, welcomed the move to tackle drug driving.
But she voiced disappointment that the Government did not back MPs recommendations to allow police to perform targeted swoops on areas where they were likely to catch drink drivers.