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Just over Drink Drive Limit? Blood or Urine Option in Police Station removed

01st Mar 2015

Drivers who provide a sample of breath showing less than 50mcg of alcohol per 100ml of breath have always had the right to demand a blood or urine test despite being over the legal limit of 35mcg per 100ml. Not any more!

The statutory option dates back to the introduction of the original breathalyser equipment as there were concerns over its reliability.  However, the Government included in The Deregulation Bill a provision to remove the right to demand a blood or urine test as evidence showed people were using it as a delaying tactic.  The reality of the situation is that where a Doctor is required to take a sample of blood, there can be a delay of some hours before that can be undertaken.  The Government are relying on statistics showing that 25% of drink drive suspects who opted for a blood test at a Police Station where there was no Doctor immediately available, were either not charged or were acquitted.  The reality is that it is not for the driver to choose whether the sample is blood or urine as that is a decision for the Police.  The driver is only allowed to elect for a specimen to be taken where his reading is less than 50mcg.  The statistics showed that 1 in 12 (8%) of those arrested for drink driving opted for the statutory option - not many you would think. 

The withdrawal of the statutory option will be coupled with the anticipated introduction of more reliable roadside breathalyser equipment so that there will be no need to perform a preliminary breath test followed by an evidential breath test on more sophisticated equipment in a police station.

Breathalyser devices have been used by the Police for drink drive screening since 1967 and as evidence since 1983. 

Frank Rogers, Head of Motoring Prosecutions at Brown Turner Ross commented:

"These changes need to be viewed with some concern.  In cases where the evidential sample of breath was marginally over the prescribed limit even on equipment that the police believed to be reliable, the Defendant quite reasonably had the option of that evidence against him being tested by a separate sample being taken.  It was for the police to decide whether that was blood or urine.  If the reality of the situation is that where a blood sample is a chosen option and there is likely to be a delay before a Doctor can take such a sample, then surely the solution would be to streamline that procedure so that Doctors were more readily available or, so that other properly trained healthcare professionals were available to take samples?

New technology always has problems when it is first introduced.  I have no reason to believe that new roadside breathalyser technology will not have its own failings, at least in the early days of its use.  This could well lead to miscarriages of justice and to people, who would otherwise not be charged, being prosecuted and convicted. 

The technology used in a Police Station can only be operated by Police Officers trained in its use and after detailed documentation protecting the rights of the Defendant have been gone through and completed.  It remains to be seen what paperwork will accompany a roadside evidential breathalyser test.

The savings that the abolition of the statutory option are likely to make are minimal and cannot alone be relied on as a justification for this measure.  While nobody wants to see the time of a hard pressed Police force being wasted, it is also essential that measures that can see an individual lose their Licence and, in many cases their business and their home as a result of a disqualification from driving, should have safeguards built into the process. I hope that will remain the case"

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