Drivers who fail breathalyser will be denied right to ask for a blood test

Motorists who fail roadside breath tests could be stripped of their right to demand a blood test.

Officials want to limit blood tests because delays in conducting one can let a driver’s blood-alcohol reading fall to safe levels.

At present, those who fail a breathalyser can insist on a blood test - but it can often takes several hours to find a doctor to supervise the test, by which time the blood-alcohol level has naturally fallen to within legal limits.

Under new plans, motorists stopped by police on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol will only be entitled to a breathalyser test

Under new plans, motorists stopped by police on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol will only be entitled to a breathalyser test

Lawyers, however, have warned that breath tests are prone to error, and that many innocent drivers will find themselves unfairly banned from driving as a result.

Drivers groups also argue that the move is more evidence that the Government is waging a war on motorists, picking on easy targets already subject to ever-present speed cameras, congestion charges and strict parking rules.

Among those worried by plans to scrap the right to an alcohol blood test is the president of the Association of Motor Offence Lawyers, Jeanette Miller, a partner in a law firm specialising in drink-drive cases.

Mrs Miller said: 'Breathalysers rely on human input and there are all sorts of things that can go wrong with them.

'It's rare that we come across a case involving our clients when the reading has been taken correctly. There is a major problem with police training.

'There is a feeling in the courts and among prosecutors that these machines are infallible, but they're not. Removing the right to another test will lead to more defendants being prosecuted unfairly.'

The Department for Transport, however, insists that breathalyser technology is now so reliable as to make blood tests redundant.

Under current laws, drivers fail a breath test if they give a reading of more than 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath. If the reading is between 35 and 50, the driver can insist on a blood test - although not if the reading was more than 50.

A spokesman for the DfT said: 'If you are arrested at the roadside and taken in for the second test, the police have to call a doctor out and that can take a couple of hours, during which time your level will have gone down because your body will have had time to process the alcohol.

'Removing that statutory right would be fairer because the same rules would be applied to everyone.'

Another DfT spokesman added that consultation on the plan to drop the breath test was now over, and that a further decision would be taken later this year.

The spokesman said: 'More than 30 years of Government education campaigns and measures to improve enforcement have cut the number of people killed in drink-drive accidents each year by almost three quarters since 1979.

'However, we know we must do more to tackle this serious issue. We are currently considering a range of options to further cut the tolls of deaths on our roads, including looking at how to make it easier for the police to enforce against drink driving.'

Among supporters of the move is The Magistrates' Association, which represents the 28,000 magistrates in England and Wales, and says the current system is 'something of a legal minefield for the police to negotiate'.

And a spokesman for the independent think tank the Institute of Alcohol Studies, Dr Rachel Seabrook, said: 'It is common for drink-drivers to exercise this right as a delaying tactic, in the hope that their blood alcohol level will have fallen below the limit by the time they have the second test.'

The Government also announced in November that it was to allow random road-side breath tests in a bid to catch more drink-drivers. Currently police can only test drivers after crashes, other traffic offences, or when there is 'reasonable suspicion' of drink-driving.

There has already been controversy, however, over the interpretation of 'reasonable suspicion' by some forces, which have been said to establish test centres at roadblocks simply because they claim an area is a drink-driving blackspot.

Breathalysers were invented in America in 1953 by Professor Robert Borkenstein of Indiana University, but were not introduced in Britain until trials in Somerset in 1967.

Around a sixth of the road deaths in Britain are blamed on drink-driving - meaning that in 2006 there were 540 motoring fatalities involving alcohol.

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