Drink-drive dangers 'escaping young drivers'

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The Independent Online

A new breed of young motorists with no comprehension of the dangers of alcohol are responsible for a rise in drink–driving over the Christmas period, safety groups warned.

A new breed of young motorists with no comprehension of the dangers of alcohol are responsible for a rise in drink–driving over the Christmas period, safety groups warned.

Police forces reported a rise in the number of people caught over the limit across England and Wales during the festive season.

According to figures released by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), 8.16% of breathalysed motorists tested positive compared with 7.18% last year and 6.5% the year before.

A total of 15,279 motorists were tested between December 18, 2001, and January 2, 2002, of which 1,247 were positive.

The total number of crashes in which people were injured over Christmas and New Year also rose to 6,512 from 6,173 the previous year, an increase of 5.5%.

The force where the highest proportion of breath tests were positive was South Yorkshire with 25.1%, followed by Hertfordsire with 24.9%

The lowest result was in the City of London where no drink drivers were caught, although only 24 were tested,

Other areas with low rates of positive tests included 2% in Staffordshire, 2.3% in Lancashire and 3.2% in Lincolshire.

In the Metropolitan Police area, 1,761 breath tests were carried out of which 15.7% were positive, compared with 8% last year.

The Met area also had the highest number of crashes in which people were injured – there were 1,247, three times more than any other force.

Commenting on the figures for ACPO Road Policing, chief constable of North Yorkshire David Kenworthy said: "It is clear that despite considerable effort by Government, police and other partners in road safety, there remains a substantial core of persistent drink drive offenders willing to put their own and others' lives at risk."

He said the reasons for the increase in the number of crashes causing injury were not known but "poor weather" could have been a factor.

The RAC Foundation said the increase in positive breath tests may be due to "a substantial increase in the number of young people who are unaware of the dangers of alcohol and motoring".

A spokesman said: "Recent research has shown that an alarming number of young people have little comprehension of the dangers of drink driving."

In a recent survey, 25% of motorists said they thought they could drink three to five pints of beer and still be below the drink–drive limit, the organisation said.

And 54% thought that they could drink three to five pints before it would have any effect on their driving ability.

Edmund King, executive director of the RAC Foundation, said there was a growing number of "hard–core" drink drivers.

"Many road safety campaigners believe that the battle against drink–driving has been won, particularly with younger motorists," he said.

"Judging by the number of positive breath tests, the assumption that drinking and driving has been made socially unacceptable seems to no longer hold water, particularly among the very group who were thought to be most convinced of the evils of drink–driving – young motorists."

"If more lives are to be saved on our roads, perhaps it is now time to reassess the education and publicity campaigns on drink driving to ensure that the message successfully reaches all motorists."

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) called on the Government to introduce a new package of measures, including cutting the drink drive limit from 80mg to 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood.

It also wants increased police powers to stop and test drivers, more use of rehabilitation courses for offenders and more high–profile publicity and education campaigns.

RoSPA head of road safety Kevin Clinton said: "We have to consider new ways to cut the drink–drive menace, particularly in the light of reports that younger motorists are now ignoring the safety warnings."

Safety groups said it was too early to tell whether allowing pubs to open for 36 hours over the New Year period had been a factor.

Jean Coussins, director of the Portman Group, the anti drink–drive campaign organisation funded by the drinks industry, said it did not think many pubs had stayed open for 36 hours and that the longer hours encouraged people to "drink sensibly".

Brake, the road safety organisation, called for a zero or trace–only drink drive limit.

Chief executive Mary Williams said: "It is atrocious that crashes resulting from drink–driving have gone up despite a decade of anti drink–driving campaigns – the Government needs to reverse this carnage."

And Brigitte Chaudhry, national secretary of road safety group RoadPeace, said: "There need to be more traffic officers to enforce the law. Traffic policing is not regarded as core policing."

The total number of 1,247 positive breath tests this Christmas was the highest since 1997–98 and was 15.3% higher than last year's figure of 1,081.

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