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Driving the drink drive message home for Christmas
IT IS a truth universally acknowledged that Christmas is the time where one can kick back and overindulge with considerably less guilt than the rest of the year.
But whilst gorging on chocolates and mince pies may harm your waistline, raiding the drinks cabinet the night before getting behind the wheel can lead to far more serious consequences.
And that is why Durham and Cleveland traffic officers are out in force throughout the festive period, spot checking motorists to serve a timely reminder that although it’s the season of merriment, there’s absolutely nothing merry about causing a fatal car crash because you had one too many at the office party.
It’s barely half past seven in the morning and barely above one degree Celsius. The sun is creeping low and bright over the hills of County Durham and in the half-light of the morning, the team of traffic officers from Cleveland and Durham Specialist Operations Unit make for an impressive sight.
Installed on an A690 laybay just outside Crook, the officers replete in hi-vis jackets stand alongside their marked cars and motorbikes. They are armed with mobile breathalysers and ready to pull over dozens of motorists as part of a festive crackdown on drink drivers.
And whilst we may stereotype drink drivers as the reckless sort who happily drive to the pub, down a few pints and think nothing of driving home again, these spot checks are all about the morning after the night before.
Sgt Phil Grieve explains: “Nothing surprises me when it comes to drink drivers. You get some who are so drunk they don’t seem to know what they’re doing, but there are others who just think ‘I will take my chances’. If you get in your car the morning after a heavy night, you still have an obligation to other road users to make sure that your driving is up to scratch, so I don’t have any sympathy when people are caught the following day. We all have an obligation and a responsibility to be safe on the roads and when people get pulled over in the morning and they’re over the limit, they are often shocked and surprised. But it never surprises me.”
Thankfully, annual drink drive fatalities have steadily decreased since records began back in 1979 when there were 1,640 reported cases. Although there was a spike in 2012 when deaths were 26 per cent up on the previous year - 290 people were killed last year, compared with 230 in 2011- Sgt Grieve believes the message is getting across. “Media coverage and social media has really helped raise awareness over the years,” he says. “People can log onto their tablet and read about fatal drink drive incidents that have happened at the other end of the country. In the past, unless the incident was reported nationally, they would never have known about it. But now I think people are far more aware of the impact drink driving can have on people’s lives.”
And due to his twenty years on the job, Sgt Grieve knows more than most about that devastating impact. He says: “A large part of my job is dealing with deaths and serious road traffic accidents. The impact of a death on a family is unimaginable, but the impact when you tell the family that drink driving was directly involved is massive because you are basically saying that the death was highly avoidable.”
Two hours and well over fifty drivers later and the officers’ hands are getting too cold to operate their breathalyzers. The rush hour traffic has dwindled down to the odd late starter and the sun is sitting at a more sociable position above the rolling hills.
Not one driver has tested positive for alcohol, but this operation is measured in more than conviction statistics, as Sgt Grieve explains: “It is not just about arrests, it is about visibility and reinforcing our message. I’d like to think that people who have been stopped this morning, and those who have driven past, will think about it the next time they go out for a drink or have a drink at home. If that curtails their drinking, or they organise it so they don’t have to drive, then the roads are going to be safer. People may moan that no arrests means we are wasting our time, but the way I see it is that our efforts over the years are starting to pay off.”
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