Police officer among 400 people caught in five-week drink-driving crackdown
A police officer was among almost 400 people caught during a five-week blitz on drink-driving across Northern Ireland.
The PSNI said there was a 40% rise in detections on last year.
In total 396 motorists were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol between November 27 and January 2 - almost 11 a day on average.
The youngest was just 16, even though the minimum driving age is 17, and the oldest was 83. One offender was so drunk, they could barely stand up.
A PSNI officer, who was off-duty at the time, was caught and has been suspended. Some drivers were arrested more than once.
The figures were released as it was yesterday revealed that drink-driving had caused more than 2,000 deaths and serious injuries here since 2000.
Among other statistics revealed were:
- Almost five times as many men were caught than women - 325 compared to 71;
- Police carried out 4,231 preliminary breath tests;
- The highest number of detections were made in the Belfast area (68) and Newry, Mourne and Down (51);
- The highest reading was 140mg of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath. The legal limit is 35mg.
Police said drink-driving arrests rose by 114 in a year, and Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd told how the PSNI did not view the rise in detections as a success.
"When we launched this operation at the end of November, we warned drivers not to take the risk because police are determined to catch drink-drivers," he explained.
"While we have seen a huge increase in detections, it's difficult to accept this situation as a success. We shouldn't be detecting anyone drink-driving."
Mr Todd said the problem was a "shameful and incredibly dangerous practice".
"Every year across Northern Ireland, drinking and driving kills, maims and wrecks families," he added. "Across Northern Ireland there are nearly 400 people who took the risk and they were caught. They are lucky to be looking forward to a court appearance where they will most likely lose their driving licence for one or more years, be fined, and will have great difficulty in obtaining car insurance in the future. Many also risk losing their jobs or going to jail. The consequences had they not been caught do not bear thinking about."
A road safety charity expressed alarm at the figures. Mike Bristow from Brake said: "Drink-driving is still a major issue on our roads, and to see an increase in people breaking the law is a major cause for concern.
"Any amount of alcohol, even amounts below our current drink-drive limit, increases the likelihood of a driver being involved in a fatal crash.
"We need effective enforcement and appropriate penalties to ensure that people have the expectation that they will be caught and that they will be punished."
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said 2,000 deaths and serious injuries since 2000 had been caused by drink-driving. "That is the shocking reality of mixing alcohol with driving," he added.
"Given what we know about how dangerous it is to drive after drinking alcohol, it is disappointing that some drivers still choose to drink alcohol and then get behind the wheel of a car."
Earlier this week, a Road Traffic Amendment Bill, which includes lower drink drive limits, a new penalty regime and powers for roadside checkpoints, was passed by the Assembly.
Mr Durkan said the new arrangements should be introduced later this year.
"The signal is clear - it is unacceptable in today's society to drink and drive," he added.
"Ultimately, it is up to each individual to act responsibly by not putting their lives and the lives of other people at risk."