Drink-drive deaths are highest for six years

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The Independent Online

Deaths caused by drink-drivers increased by 30 to 560 last year, despite a hard-hitting government campaign costing millions of pounds.

The number of fatalities caused by drink-driving in 2002 was the highest in six years. The number of injuries caused by motorists driving while over the limit also rose, from 18,770 in 2001 to 20,140 last year.

Officials in the Department of Transport are worried that the figures could signal an upward trend. David Jamieson, a Transport minister, said yesterday that he was "very concerned" by the increased number of deaths.

Overall, the number of people killed on the roads dropped by 19 to 3,431.

The number of people killed by drink-drivers had been declining over the past two decades after a series ofcampaigns and high-profile police operations. In 1979 there were 1,640 deaths linked to drink-driving. This dropped to 460 in 1998 and 1999.

Mr Jamieson said: "While safety on Britain's roads continues to show steady improvement overall, we are very concerned about the increase in the number of deaths due to drink-drive accidents.

"The vast majority of drivers know that drink-driving is wrong. But there is a hard core of reckless drivers who continue to drink and drive. They are a danger to themselves and everyone else on the road. They should remember that drink-driving kills and our penalties are among the toughest in Europe. Drink-drivers face an automatic 12-month ban, hefty fine and possible prison sentence."

Andrew Howard, head of road safety at the AA Motoring Trust, said many drivers believed that they could get away with drink-driving. "The public perception of road safety enforcement at the moment is that it is done by camera and concentrates on speeding motorists and not other criminal motoring behaviour," he said.

Mary Williams, chief executive of the road safety charity Brake, added: "The drink-drive limit is too high and [is] blatant encouragement to risk driving after having one or two drinks, which can be lethal."

The RAC said that its research revealed that there were 200,000 drivers who continued knowingly to drink and drive and that nearly 80 per cent of British motorists did not know what constituted "one unit" of alcohol. The organisation said company car drivers were more likely to drive the morning after drinking heavily the night before.

Don Foster, transport spokes-man, for the Liberal Democrats, said: "With almost 30 more deaths and more than 1,200 more casualties caused by drink-driving in the last year, the Government cannot afford to be complacent. The Government must also cut the drink-drive limit, as they promised in 1996."

Of the 3,431 people killed in road accidents, 224 died on motorways, 1,369 on built-up roads and 1,838 on non built-up roads. The worst month for deaths last year was December, when there were 332 fatalities. The lowest number of deaths - 233 - was in February.

Thirteen per cent of all road accident casualties and 22 per cent of those who died in road accidents were pedestrians.

The figures reveal that the number of people seriously injured fell 3 per cent to 35,976, while total casualties - killed, seriously injured and slightly injured - numbered 302,605, a dip of 3 per cent on the 2001 total.

Forty fewer children were killed on the roads in 2002 than in 2001 - a fall of 18 per cent.