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Hundreds caught in new random drink-drive crackdown

A drunk mother doing the school run after a boozy lunch was among the hundreds of drivers caught using new police powers to conduct random breath tests in Northern Ireland.

The very first motorist stopped at the first spot checkpoint set up on the Causeway coast was also over the limit, a police commander has revealed.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd noted the cases as examples of drivers who might otherwise have evaded detection before the beefed-up legislation was introduced in November.

The Stormont law change has handed officers in Northern Ireland the ability to randomly test people without reasonable suspicion of an offence.

Previously, a car could only be pulled over if it appeared the driver was under the influence.

Mr Todd said the PSNI was now able to do significantly more breath tests. He said over the traditional festive period in excess of 1,000 checkpoints will have been set up across the region.

"The new laws have given people a lot more awareness around this and people are a lot more wary and a lot more conscious that there are significant risks to taking a chance of getting behind the wheel," he said.

"I always say success for policing is getting the message out. I would like to do ten times as many tests and get half as many detections because success for us isn't catching drunk drivers, success for us is people not doing it."

He added: "The previous legislation was quite wide but I think the messaging around the word 'random' and specific random operations, where we just stop you for no reason whatsoever, has just probably caught the public psyche more."

Through the first three weeks of the seasonal drink drive crackdown, detection rates were up only marginally on the year before - 241 compared to 237 (up 1.7%).

Mr Todd said a closer look at the figures indicated the impact of the new laws. He highlighted that in the first week the number of drunk drivers arrested was up 45% on the same week in 2015.

The officer said in the weeks after that the numbers reduced - indicating people had realised they could now be stopped at any time.

In terms of the types of drivers being stopped, he said: "There is no real stereotype to this. It is more male than female, strongly so on the numbers, and within that you will get everything from aged 16 to 80.

"We have had a case this year of a mother going out for lunch with the girls and going to pick up the kids from school and getting stopped and they are over the limit."

The commander said there was often a lot of public discourse about people being caught driving over the limit the morning after the night before. But he said those cases only represented around 10% of the total detections.

"We always get asked the question about do we think that's fair - people have gone out for a night, have got a taxi home and then are caught the next day - but the truth remains when you are over that limit you are a danger on the road," he said.

Mr Todd said the new random checkpoints would not be limited to the festive season.

"The legislation has just been introduced and it is something we will be using throughout the new year," he said.

"The timing (of the law change) has been helpful for us in terms of the Christmas campaign because the risks are so much higher at Christmas because more people are out, more people are socialising, there is more traffic on the roads, there are more vulnerable people."

He added: "We'd really be happy to be using the new legislation extensively across the province but actually watch our drink driving arrest numbers fall because people aren't doing it as much as they used to - that's what success would look like for us."

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