NEW powers to allow police to introduce random breath-testing on Scotland’s roads to clamp down on drink-drivers have been blocked by the UK government.
Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill had hoped that the UK government would grant them the powers to help police catch persistent drink-drivers who continue to drive under the influence because they believe there is a low risk of being caught.
In a letter to UK Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, MacAskill argued that random breath tests should replace the current system, where police have to show they reasonably suspect a moving traffic offence or the consumption of alcohol or drugs to stop a vehicle and test its driver.
But yesterday it emerged that McLoughlin has dismissed MacAskill’s proposal. Although powers to lower the drink-drive limit had been given to Holyrood in the recently enacted Scotland Bill, McLoughlin said it was “unlikely” that the UK government would change its position on random breath tests.
McLoughlin said: “The Scotland Bill will… implement the recommendations of the Calman Commission, and the final Calman report considered that only the drink-drive limit should be devolved.”
With Scottish police preparing to launch a four-week festive drink-driving crackdown, MacAskill indicated he was disappointed by the decision.
“The statistics on drink- driving are stark,” he said. “It is estimated that, on average, each year there are 30 lives lost on Scotland’s roads as a result of drink-driving. Too many people still think it is acceptable to get behind the wheel after drinking alcohol.”
As well as random tests, MacAskill wanted the UK government to give the Scottish Government control over the penalties imposed on drink-drivers and the power to create stricter drink-drive limits on categories of motorists such as newly qualified and young drivers.
He said: “The UK government has missed an opportunity to extend the very limited transfer of drink-drive powers. Additional powers to set penalties, to allow police to carry out breath testing at any time and to consider differential drink-driving limits – for example, for young and novice drivers – could have saved lives.
“The Secretary of State for Transport has rejected our call to devolve these responsibilities but there will be no let-up in our efforts. I will continue to urge the UK government to reconsider.”
MacAskill said it would be “beneficial to devolve powers to consider the introduction of the power for the police to require a breath-test from drivers any time and any place.
“There is clear research that a hard core of persistent drink-drivers behave as they do, at least in part, because they consider the risk of being caught is very low. I regularly meet with Scottish police officers dealing with the devastating effects of drink-driving and they are adamant that to counteract this perception of a low risk of being caught, the police need the power to test any driver, even if there is no cause to suspect drink-driving.”
MacAskill made his views known ahead of the launch of the annual Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland’s four-week festive crackdown on drink and drug-driving.