Rise in breath-test failures brings call for lower limit

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A growing number of motorists appear to be ignoring the Christmas campaign against drink-driving. Police revealed yesterday that there had been 18 per cent rise in the number of positive breath-tests.

News that 5,209 drivers in England and Wales were arrested, compared with last year's figure of 4,330, brought renewed calls for a new lower "one-pint" limit and tougher police powers to stop motorists.

Figures released by the Association of Chief Police Officers show there were 974 alcohol-related accidents during the course of the Christmas campaign, an increase of 4 per cent over last year's figure of 939.

Paul Manning, secretary of Acpo's traffic committee and an assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said: "Both figures show there is no room for complacency and there are still people prepared to risk the lives of others and themselves by acting irresponsibly."

Mr Manning added that he believed the increase was partly due to the police's new policy of breathalysing every driver involved in an accident. Some of the increase may also be due to a rise in the number of motorists tested, but police were unable to supply a figure for the total number of tests performed.

Mr Manning dismissed suggestions that the Department of Transport's pounds 1.2m television campaign had been a failure. The advertisements featured a young woman severely scarred from a road accident caused by her drunken boyfriend. Campaigners point out that many of the hard-core drink-drivers are middle-aged men who are less likely to be affected by the advertisement.

Among the police forces with the biggest increases were Gwent where 117 motorists failed breath tests, compared with 56 last year, but officers tested nearly double the number of drivers. The number of drivers testing positive in Northumbria rose to 181, from 112. Almost one in four of the 672 motorists tested failed.

There was a 20 rise in South Wales, a 35 per cent increase in West Mercia and 15 per cent in Lancashire. In Greater Manchester, there were 361 arrests following positive tests over Christmas and New Year, a rise of more than 7 per cent.

The Metropolitan Police recorded 895 positive tests compared with 850 last year. The number of alcohol-related accidents also rose by nine to 144.

In Merseyside, however, there was a 28 per cent drop in positive tests despite an almost threefold increase in checks to 11,160. Dorset and Gloucestershire also reported a drop.

Glenda Jackson, a shadow transport minister, said that a future Labour government would review the existing laws with a mind to lowering the legal limit from 80mg per 100ml of blood to 50mg - equivalent to about a pint of strong beer.