Sunday 13 December 2009

Have you been drinking, Sir?

And, if you feel reasonably confident of passing a breath test, the answer tends to be “just the one”.

I recently concluded a poll asking the question “How many times have you been breath tested in your driving career?” There were 60 responses, and the results were:

Never: 23 (38%)
Once: 18 (30%)
Twice: 7 (12%)
3-5 times: 3 (5%)
6-10 times: 1 (2%)
More than 10 times: 1 (2%)
I have never held a driving licence: 7 (11%)

I was really asking this out of interest rather than trying to make any particular point. Obviously the likelihood of anyone being breath tested depends both on how long they have been driving and the pattern of journeys they make. I would imagine anyone routinely driving in suburban and urban fringe areas late on Friday and Saturday nights would have experienced more than one test.

While I am certainly not an advocate of large-scale random breath testing, there is no doubt that having been tested, or knowing a friend who has been, is an effective deterrent to drink-drive offending, and the widespread replacement of traffic police with speed cameras may in a sense have given a green light to offenders. But, given that most drivers rarely or never experience a test, it calls into question what safety benefit a lower limit would bring. If you just blend into the general flow of traffic, your chances of being pulled up are miniscule. Of course, though, the situation in which you are most likely to be tested is having just driven out of a pub car park.

For what it’s worth, I have held a driving licence since November 1976. Since then, I have driven more than 350,000 miles, and have been breath tested just once, almost exactly twenty years ago, in precisely the circumstances described above, having just pulled out of a pub car park in an urban fringe area at about 8.30 pm. I had had a drink, but an amount that I believed would leave me well below the legal limit, which the test confirmed.


  1. Just an observation. I worked as a weekend minicab driver for nearly three years in the 90s and wasn't stopped once.

    And this was when the only marking was a magentic aerial on the back.

    Make of that what you will. ;-)

  2. I suspect to a large extent the police leave minicab drivers alone when it comes to breath tests, as they don't fit into a target category. I have experienced some awful driving from private hire drivers, but I have never been in a cab with a driver I suspected had been drinking. Nowadays, of course, a lot of them are Muslims.

  3. I often read your blog through a feed reader so completely missed this survey, unfortunately, as there was no accompanying post. You can add one to the Never count.

  4. The two above are my tardness, apols.

    Aye PC, you're correct that plod don't target that area.

    A London PCO badge costs £298 for 3 years, and you get to avoid the congestion charge for that.

    Just saying, is all.

  5. I was one of the drivers who have been breath-tested once. The circumstances were interesting. I was driving an acquaintance home, and he said, 'Drop me right here. this'll do.' And I was looking for somewhere to pull over and let him out. Eventually, in the dark, I came to a stop at a clear bit of pavement. And then he sat jabbering in the passenger seat and wouldn't get out. Next thing the fuzz were banging on the window. I'd stopped on a zebra crossing. They said I'd parked there. I was stuffed in the back of their police car and breath-tested. No problems, because I'd only had a half of lager two hours beforehand. I'd been driving erratically because I was looking for some place to drop this garrulous man who who wouldn't get out of the effing car when I did.

  6. I've been tested the once. It was 2am, I was leathering it home at double the speed limit after "enjoying the company" of my then bird who lived with her parents at the time who had been upstairs asleep as I erm "enjoyed the company" of the my then squeeze.

    I was tested clear and let off the speeding fine. Nice one constible.


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