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Blog: Why aren’t ministers tackling drink driving head-on?

Motor lawyer, Jeanette Miller tells us why the government is making a mistake in failing to tackle drink-driving amongst young people.

The police released new figures this month that showed a 15 per cent increase in the number of drivers aged 25 or below being tested positive for drink-driving or refusing to take a breath test.

Maybe it’s our celebrity culture, seeing teen idols like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan getting arrested for being over the limit that somehow makes young drivers justify getting behind the wheel after having a few too many.

So this latest stat about young drivers is pretty shocking if taken at face value. When I read about it my immediate thought was maybe it is not a true reflection of the nation’s youth ignoring drink-drive laws. After all, in many drink-driving and failing-to-provide-sample cases I come across, breath-testing equipment is faulty and inaccurate.

Despite the general public’s perception that an arrest must mean the driver is guilty, we are frequently successful in proving their innocence (not by way of loopholes) in court.

However, the police report is also supported by further research, this time by the RAC which found that 23 per cent of drivers under the age of 25 had driven when they suspected they were over the limit. So, my logical conclusion is that there must be some truth to this apparent trend and that we do in fact have a problem with our youth and their understanding and caring about the dangers of drink driving.

Confession time

When I was a new driver, there was a huge taboo surrounding the issue of drink driving. But even so, I know when I was 19 years old I once drove while I must have been over the limit. I hadn’t appreciated the differences in different brands of alcohol. It was before the invention of “alcopops” and I equated a bottle of 20/20 (does that still exist?) with a bottle of Budweiser.

There is no doubt in my mind now, that I must have been well over the limit and I am extremely lucky that I didn’t cause an accident or injure myself or anyone else. I did this even though I was an intelligent young woman on my way to getting a degree and while it is no excuse, I put my stupidity down to ignorance.

That said, I know plenty of my contemporaries, even now, who are equally ignorant of drink driving limits and how alcohol interacts with the body. The only reason I am aware of the limits more now than I was back then is because it is my job to know.

Education, education, education

How disappointing, then is it that against the backdrop of these shocking stats, the government has reduced its spending on anti-drink drive campaigns by a whopping 84 per cent. In 2009-10 the spend was £3.4million yet in this financial year it is just over £500,000. So, we have a rise in young drink-driving offenders, a major problem with the drinking culture in the UK and the government chooses to practically walk away from the best way of tackling the issue: education.

It’s not as if the money can’t be drawn from elsewhere. In West Yorkshire, in the financial year 2009-10, there were 54,710 speeding tickets issued generating revenue of £3.2million.

In 2010-11 they issued 92,557 tickets with around £5.5million revenue generated. Very different crimes I know, but when the government makes such drastic cuts on educating young drivers about drink driving dangers all this seems to defy logic and I can’t help but allow cynicism to creep in. Could it be that perhaps the government hope to raise money from the fines they collect from offenders?

Motor lawyer Jeanette Miller, is the senior partner of Geoffrey Miller Solicitors, a UK firm specialising solely in defending drivers who face prosecution for motoring offences. She is also a member of the Association of Motor Offence Lawyers.

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