Why we don’t like drink-drivers...

Driver breathalysed
Driver breathalysed

ON THE BEAT: With Inspector Jim Tyner

I don’t like drink-drivers. I’m sure most of them are very nice people when they’re not drink-driving, but if I come across a drink-driver when I’m working, then we are going to have a difference of opinion.

And so it was on a rainy Monday night in October 1994. It was 10 o’clock and I had a couple of hours to go before the end of my shift. I had just left the police station in a police car and it was my intention to drive out to the Aintree Drive estate, park up and carry out a foot patrol.

I decided to take a detour via the town centre. As I drove from Broad Street into the Market Place I was surprised to see the headlights of a car facing the wrong way in the one-way system of Hall Place. As I approached I could see that the driver had wound down his window and was talking to a pedestrian who appeared to be giving him directions.

I got out of the police car and walked up to the driver. The smell of booze hit me as I approached. When I started speaking to the driver he had all the signs of being drunk: his eyes were glazed; his words were slurred and when he stepped out of the car he was wobbly on his feet. Before I had a chance to speak he went on the offensive: didn’t I have anything better to do? Why was I harassing innocent motorists rather than catching robbers?

These were the sort of comments I’d heard a hundred times before and a thousand times since.

Once the man was sat in my police car I carried out a breath test. This involved using an old-fashioned apparatus where the driver would blow through a glass tube attached to a plastic bag. The glass tube contained some crystals which would change colour if there was alcohol on the driver’s breath. The breath test was carried out and I examined the glass tube. Sure enough, the crystals were all green and the man was arrested. He replied ‘I honestly haven’t had a drink’.

We then drove to the police station. At this time, although I suspected the driver might be over the limit, I would need to obtain two further samples of breath on the intoximeter machine at the station.

The legal limit is 35 microgammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath. I am often asked how much alcohol would take you over the limit – an impossible question to answer.

There’s no safe way to calculate how much alcohol you can drink to stay below the limit. Alcohol’s effect on the body varies between different people and depends on factors such as:

* whether you’re male or female

* your age

* your weight

* whether you’ve eaten recently

* the type of alcohol you’re drinking

So we carried out the station intoximeter procedure and the driver provided two samples of breath. It takes a minute for the machine to then carry out an analysis of the samples. Once the results are provided, the higher result is ignored and the lower sample is used as evidence. As I mentioned earlier: the legal limit is 35. If the lower sample was 39 microgrammes or lower, the driver would be released with a warning. Between 40 and 50 microgrammes the driver would be given the option of providing a blood or urine sample. If the lower sample was 51 or above, the driver would be charged.

As we waited for the result the driver continued to insist that he hadn’t had a drink. The seconds ticked by and eventually the results flashed up on the machine’s display screen.

The readings were 127 and 131. Nearly four times the drink drive limit!

There is an arrogance to most drink-drivers. It’s as though they think they are above the law: it doesn’t apply to them.

Any amount of alcohol affects your judgment and your ability to drive safely. You may not notice the effects but even a small amount of alcohol can:

* reduce your co-ordination

* slow down your reactions

* affect your vision

* affect how you judge speed and distance

* make you drowsy

Alcohol can also make you more likely to take risks, which can create dangerous situations for you and other people. Just like my driver, driving the wrong way up a one-way street.

The consequences of being convicted of drink-driving are severe. On this occasion the driver lost his job as he was banned from driving and needed to drive for a living. I don’t feel sorry for those that are convicted. I have seen the other consequences of drink-driving at collisions. I have had to pick up the broken bodies. I have had to knock on the doors of families whose lives I am going to change forever when I tell them that a loved one has died as a consequence of being hit by a drink-driver.

Recently Scotland adopted a lower drink-drive limit. The Scottish Parliament voted unanimously in favour of the reduction and, according to a survey by the RAC, 79% of Scottish motorists support the reduction. England now has the highest drink-drive limit in Europe and yet drivers still continue to flout the law.

I don’t like drink-drivers and you only have to read the court results in this paper to see that my officers don’t like them either. They are relentless in catching drink-drivers across South Holland.