More UK drivers testing positive for alcohol, but police breathalyse fewer motorists

Govt figures show number of breath tests issued by police has plummeted in recent years, as proportion of positive breath tests increase

Breathalyser test drink driving

The proportion of drivers failing roadside alcohol breath tests has increased for the last five years, as the number of drivers being breathalysed has plummeted.

Official figures from the Department for Transport (DfT) show 147,550 drivers were tested at the roadside for alcohol in 2017, with 12.4 per cent failing the test. But in 2016, 178,102 drivers were breathalysed, with 11.5 per cent failing the test. 

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That pattern has been repeated over the last five years. More than three times as many (474,603) drivers were breathalysed in 2013 compared to 2017, while failure rates were just 9.4 per cent. 

While the DfT’s figures don’t suggest what could be causing the increase in positive breath tests, reduced police numbers may be forcing officers to target drink drivers more successfully, or the proportion of motorists who get  behind the wheel when over the limit could be increasing. 

Breath tests issued147,550178,102256,098310,017





















Percentage failed12.411.510.6%9.9%9.4%

Whatever the explanation, previous research from the DfT revealed the number of people dying on our roads at the hands of drink drivers increased by 18 per cent in 2016 compared to 2015.

Differentiating between correlation and causality is a notoriously problematic when interpreting statistics, but officials records show the number of police has shown the number of traffic officers plummet by a third over the last decade.

Find out more about the UK drink drive limits here...


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