Youngsters blamed for drink-drive resurgence

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The Christmas campaign against drink-driving was criticised yesterday after police revealed a second successive rise in the number of motorists failing breath tests.

Figures from the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), showed that 8.16 per cent of breathalysed motorists tested positive at Christmas compared with 7.18 per cent the year before and 6.5 per cent in 1999. The total of 1,247 positive breath tests this Christmas was the highest since 1997-98.

Road safety campaigners warned that the rise could be due to the emergence of a new generation of younger drivers who failed to appreciate the dangers of drink-driving.

Edmund King, executive director of the RAC Foundation, said the Christmas campaign, which featured Cliff Richard's song "Mistletoe and Wine" being played over images of a serious car accident, may have been directed at the wrong audience. "These campaigns are good for the general public but they are probably not as good for the people that we really need to hit. Perhaps we ought to target through text messages, young people's magazines or at cinemas when particular films are showing."

The new figures will make disturbing reading at the Home Office, where the reduction in drink-driving over the past decade has been cited as an outstanding example of crime prevention through public information campaigning.

But signs that a new group of young drink-drivers was emerging first became apparent a year ago when figures showed a rise in such offences by those aged 19 to 29.

Mr King said a recent RAC Foundation study had shown that 25 per cent of drivers thought they could drink between three and five pints of beer and still be under the drink-driving limit. He said there were "high levels of ignorance" among young drivers on the effects of alcohol.

Yesterday's police figures revealed large discrepancies between comparable arrest rates in different regions.

The force with the highest proportion of positive breath tests was South Yorkshire with 25.1 per cent, followed by Hertfordshire with 24.9 per cent.

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 testing included 2 per cent in Staffordshire and 2.3 per cent in Lancashire.

In the Metropolitan Police area, 1,761 breath tests were done, of which 15.7 per cent were positive, compared with 8 per cent a year ago.

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

The number of crashes in which people were injured over Christmas and New Year also rose, to 6,512 from 6,173 the previous year, up 5.5 per cent.

David Kenworthy, chief constable of North Yorkshire, said on behalf of Acpo: "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."

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has called for the introduction of a package of measures, including cutting the legal limit for driving from 80mg to 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood.