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383 caught in drink-drive crackdown in Northern Ireland

By Sophie Inge and Nevin Farrell

A driver had near-fatal levels of alcohol in his system when he was caught by police, the PSNI has said.

However, fewer drivers and motorcyclists were caught drink-driving in Northern Ireland during the Christmas anti-drink-drive operation than the previous year - despite a 125% increase in tests.

According to figures released today, 383 drink-drivers were detected between November 24, 2016 and January 3, 2017.

The crackdown marked the first time police have been able to perform random breath tests at vehicle checkpoints following new legislation introduced last year.

The most recent figure was 16 fewer than the number recorded during the previous winter's operation.

The offender with the highest reading this year was a Jaguar driver from Co Antrim.

Dermot Patrick Walsh (48), from Cairnlea, Ballygally, was more than four times the limit when he was stopped by police as he drove to a bottle bank on December 7.

At the end of December, police had told Ballymena Magistrates' Court that a mobile patrol was behind Walsh and noticed the Jaguar vehicle driving slightly onto the wrong side of the road before it made a sharp turn into a Spar store.

The married father-of-three was slurring his words and told police officers he wished to apologise.

He pleaded guilty to a charge of driving with excess alcohol, and was banned from driving for a year and fined £400.

Beforehand, Walsh had a completely clear record throughout his 31 years of driving and had no points on his licence.

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd told the Belfast Telegraph his reaction to the latest figures is mixed.

"We said at the start of the campaign that we would use the new legislation to increase the number of people being tested on our roads to increase the chance of people being caught," he said.

"So we've kept our side of that.

"Tests have gone from just under 5,000 last year to almost 11,000 this year.

"And on the back of that the number of detections has fallen to 383.

"Having said that, 383 people over the drink-drive limit on the roads of Northern Ireland is not a success story for us because those are people who continue to ignore or dismiss the safety message that we're giving.

"So there's still work to be done."

Those caught drink-driving ranged from a driver of just 17 to an 80-year-old. The vast majority were male - who made up 85%.

"We have had people with very high readings," he said.

"The highest was over four times the legal limit with a reading of 149 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millimetres of breath while the legal limit is 35 micrograms - an almost fatal dose in the system.

"We've had people fall out at the feet of officers at the side of the road because of their incapacity to stand let alone drive a motor vehicle.

"In many ways those are the lucky ones that will end up in the courts.

"Had they gone on to kill somebody or seriously injure someone in a road traffic collision - which they are very likely to do with levels like that in their system - then they would be facing lengthy jail terms as well," the officer added.

In addition, 300 people received warnings for having alcohol in their system, despite being below the legal limit.

"We don't believe there is a safe limit," he said.

"The law has to stipulate a level but all the science and the research shows that even after one drink your ability to drive a motor vehicle decreases and that you are an increased risk to yourself as well as to other road users.

"So our advice is: do not drink and drive.

"If you find yourself asking the question: 'Am I safe to drive?' the answer is you're not."

drivers detected between Nov 24, 2016 and Jan 3, 2017

of the drivers caught drink-driving were male, 15% were female

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