Letter: Breath-test figures may be dropped

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Sir: I take issue with your efforts to discredit the Christmas drink/drive campaign ("Christmas rise in drink-driving revealed as bogus", 13 January).

The statistics announced by me on 2 January, on behalf of all 43 chief constables in England and Wales, indicated an 18 per cent increase over last year in positive breath tests. I drew no inference from this result, other than to say that I was disappointed.

Drawing conclusions from the drink/drive statistics has always been a contentious area. Prior to 1995 we did provide information on the number of tests administered but, as there was no record of the number of motorists actually stopped, comparing the percentage of positive tests against this figure as a measure of success was fundamentally flawed. This presented a misleading picture and we have no wish to return to a situation where data is more a measure of police activity than the extent of drink-driving.

In 1995 we shifted our emphasis to reporting the total number of drink- related accidents but continued to record the number of positive tests because we recognised that the media would wish to make a comparison with previous campaigns and we were trying to be helpful. However, the reaction to the statistics provided this year may well lead us to reappraise the information we provide and possibly lead us to stop publishing the number of positive tests altogether, perhaps only publishing the number of alcohol- related accidents and adding other categories.

I readily acknowledge that there may have been an increase in breath tests over the Christmas period and have never said otherwise. Any increase could well be due to our policy of breath-testing all drivers in all accidents that we deal with. This Christmas campaign was the first to be affected by this policy. Any increase may also have been due to an increase in police activity as indicated by your survey.

To say that my announcement was "bogus" and made in an effort to obtain greater powers is a clear distortion of the facts. The Association of Chief Police Officers has nothing to gain from distorting the results of the campaign. Our position on drinking and driving has been publicly and ethically stated for many years and is well known to the Department of Transport. Reducing the limit is for us a secondary issue and we have concentrated upon introducing the policy of breath-testing after all accidents and seeking unfettered discretion to breath-test, which will enable us to target the hard-core drink/driving offenders.

Articles such as this draw attention away from the real issue, the cost to society in terms of lost lives, injuries and the misery caused by bereavement, not only at Christmas but the whole year round. As far as the police service is concerned, our priorities will lie not in data-gathering but in actively pursuing offenders.

PAUL MANNING

Assistant Commissioner, Metropolitan Police;

Secretary, Council of the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland

New Scotland Yard

London SW1

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