By Angela Rees
The Christmas anti-drink-drive message seems to have got through to motorists as fewer people failed a breath test than the year before.
Despite police testing more drivers in England and Wales in December than the same period in 2011, the failure or refusal rate fell from 7,124 out of 156,569 tested (4.55 per cent) to 7,123 out of 175,831, down to 4.05 per cent.
The figures included a fall among young drivers aged 20-24, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) said. More than 1,000 more drivers in the age category were breath-tested in December 2012 compared with 2011, but with 104 fewer young drivers failing tests.
However, the 2012 figures overall were still higher than in December 2010 when 6,662 (3.91 per cent) failed or refused out of a total of 170,552.
ACPO's roads policing head, deputy chief constable Suzette Davenport, said: "It's good to see that yet again the majority of drivers are responsible and sensible. Our results show that by far the majority of drivers stopped did not drink or take drugs and drive. We made it absolutely clear to drivers before Christmas that we would be stepping up our efforts to breathalyse them. It is encouraging to see the message has got through to even more drivers than last year."
Despite the success of the Christmas campaign, she pledged that police would continue to focus on the "small but significant" number who believe they can risk their own lives, and the lives of others, by driving under the influence.
AA president Edmund King said various campaigns appeared to have had a positive effect over Christmas but issued a note of caution, saying the number of young drivers failing breath tests was still too high and police tactics varied considerably up and down the country.
"Even though there was a reduction in the number of under-25s testing positive, the proportion of positive tests (5.27 per cent) was higher than for the over-25s (3.39 per cent)," he said. "The North Wales force, which represents a population of 675,000 people, tested more than 18,000 drivers. In comparison, the South Wales force, which represents 1.2 million people, only tested 3,703."
Road safety minister Stephen Hammond warned motorists that they should be in no doubt that if they get behind the wheel after drinking they risk losing their licence, as well as facing a fine and even a prison sentence.
He said the Government is planning to streamline enforcement and tighten the law so drink-drivers will have "nowhere to hide", and that the figures show the police are "cracking down on the irresponsible minority who continue to ignore the law".