Incidents of drink-driving are on the increase, around 7% up typically, and yet some areas are seeing a 26% decrease in arrests for the offence.
Budget cuts are affecting all aspects of policing; the West Midlands force has just 302 working breathalyser kits to share between 3,500 officers.
Road deaths have increased by an average of 20% since 2017.
In January 1966, the new Road Safety Bill was introduced, part of that bill concerned alcohol levels for drivers, although the breathalyser wasn’t introduced until a year later. In the intervening years, cases of drink-driving have reduced dramatically; 1979 saw 19,740 prosecutions, thirty-five years later and the numbers are less than half – 8,740 in 2015.
Despite those numbers, incidents of drink & drug driving are now on the increase – drink-driving offences are the highest they’ve been since 2012, and yet the number of tests carried has been significantly reduced – 563,427 in 2011, to just 325,887 in 2017.
But then with a 12.8% decrease in actual ‘feet on the beat’, is it any wonder that criminals are getting away with more?
John Apter, chairman of the National Police Federation states: “The number of motorists stopped for drink & drug driving, using a mobile phone or not wearing a seatbelt has dropped by 52% since 2011, but I don’t believe that the reduction is due to people no longer carrying out the offence, it’s simply that they aren’t being caught”.
“We are just being stretched so far that we no longer have the budget to target certain areas, like roads policing”.
It has taken decades for drink-driving to become so stigmatised to the point of a change in society, from it being seen as ‘the norm’ through to being concerned about it due to the legal repercussions, to actually condemning those that still think they pose no risk while under the influence.
But a number of high-ranking officials are worried that drink-driving will become more acceptable again, due to the lower incidences of prosecution; Richard Cooke, chair of the West Midlands Federation believes that people could view it as a lesser crime, thanks to the de-prioritisation of prosecution. The reality is that the police (and society) still view it as completely unacceptable, it’s just that “colleagues are constantly reporting that they have difficulty getting hold of a working kit when they need it”.
The BBC has calculated that since 2010, funding for the police has been cut by around 20% in real terms, despite promises from the government with regards to an extra £450m in ring-fenced funding. The problem partly stems from where that funding is found.
Half of the £450m will be made up from council tax, but this requires all the councils to increase their individual Council Tax rate to the maximum allowed, so the reality is that the ‘guaranteed’ funding isn’t … guaranteed.
Police resource, both in terms of workforce and equipment is at an all-time low. Depending on which statistics you believe, the number of officials has fallen from an all-time high of 177,600 in 2010 to just below 150,000 in 2018, some even put the figure as low as 122,000.
A recent survey found that around half of the population believe they haven’t seen a police officer in their area for more than a year.
It’s clear that budget cuts and restrictions are affecting the policing of our roads, perhaps it’s no wonder that automated technology like safety cameras are taking over the day-to-day infringements, but even with smart tech that can monitor distracted driving, it needs a trigger – someone actually speeding.
Drunk driving may not necessarily trigger a safety camera, and even if it does, today’s tech can’t tell that the driver is over the blood-alcohol limit, so it’s a feasible concern that some motorists will take their chances and risk lives while doing so.
There’s no simple answer, but it does lead us back to last weeks report on Huawei filing papers for technology that can detect a drink or drug driver in an autonomous car; perhaps their technology could be put to better use?
Of course, it could still be construed as a huge civil rights issue, but perhaps this is a case where the needs of the few, outweigh the needs of the many? Just how far should society go in order to eradicate drink-driving completely?
The budget cuts mean that forces are having to prioritise their workload, and police numbers are dwindling, it’s easy to envisage a day that only the most serious of crimes will be investigated by the police, perhaps with a secondary, privatised force investigating all other crimes.
Can society eradicate drink or drug driving? Would you accept a mandatory anti-drink-drive system in your car? Or should the government change priorities? Let us know in the comments.