Britain fights EU proposals for random breath tests
THE government is facing a bureaucratic struggle to fight off a European Union proposal for British police to adopt Continental-style random breathalyzer tests of motorists to cut down on drink-driving.
The Home Office yesterday rejected as "inefficient" the introduction of random stop-and-search style policing, which is being recommended by the European Commission. Britain, Ireland and Denmark are the only EU countries where random checks are not legal.
Ad Hellemons, president of the European Traffic Police Network, warned that if the UK does not voluntarily follow the recommendation, the Commission will attempt to make the random-testing plan into a directive, giving it legal force over member states.
"We are aware that the UK is not happy about this, but at the end of the day we are talking about making our roads safer," he told BBC Radio Five Live.
"The government does not think the police should have unlimited powers to stop and test, which would put unnecessary pressure on limited resources," the Home Office replied in a statement.
"Nor does it see the need for random breath-testing which is inefficient in catching drink drive offenders, particularly persistent ones."
Existing British law allows the police to stop and breathalyze a driver only if they believe that an offence has been committed, or if they have grounds to suspect that the driver is over the legal limit.
While police powers in Britain are weaker than in many other countries, penalties for drink driving are stiffer, and the government argues that those penalties are the most effective way of stopping people driving under the influence.
Figures from the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, a pressure group, suggest the British approach is less effective than that of other EU nations. Despite the fact that Britain has more severe sanctions than Sweden, the proportion of fatal crashes with a driver over the legal limit in the UK is 14 per cent compared to 10 per cent in Sweden, where random tests are allowed.
With European Parliament elections and final negotiations for the EU constitution due next month, the government is keen to avoid the impression that Brussels is infringing on everyday British life, for fear of handing political ammunition to eurosceptic parties like the Conservatives and the UK Independence Party.
"We don’t need to be told by Brussels that we need to have random breath-testing," said Michael Howard, the Conservative leader. "This is the sort of thing we will be fighting at next month’s elections."
Labour also is wary of further antagonising motorists already angry at rising fuel prices and the widespread use of speed cameras.
The Association of Chief Police Officers is today set to reveal new roadside cameras, which use lasers to spot motorists driving too close behind other drivers.
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