EVERY driver in a North-East police force is to face a strict test of their skills behind the wheel.

Any Durham Constabulary officer who fails the 90-minute 150-point road test faces suspension from driving police vehicles, and will be forced to sit a week-long refresher course.

The move comes as part of a sweeping road safety initiative, and follows a national report two years ago which recommended all forces to undertake a driver skills reassessment every three to five years.

Cleveland Constabulary say they have had a regular re-testing process in place since 1998, while North Yorkshire Police are considering a similar move.

The decision to carry out the tests came from the Durham force's policy advisory group, the policies of which require drivers to produce a licence before undergoing an eyesight test, and then the on-road assessment with a force instructor.

Candidates will be taken out on a variety of routes. Where the test identifies a shortfall in driver skills, remedial training will be required.

Inspector Frank Kirby, who drew up the programme, which is expected to start in September, said: "It's right that we should periodically reassess driver skills on health and public safety grounds.

"This programme fully supports our road policing strategy to improve the behaviour of every road user, including our own drivers.

"The first drivers to be put through the programme will be those who have been involved in accidents who have not subsequently undergone refresher training or re-assessment."

No officers will be exempt, and the Chief Constable, George Hedges, has volunteered to go first.

Although some drivers will be concerned about the length of time since their last formal instruction, allowances will be made.

However, the force has vowed to "balance unfamiliarity with approved driving practices" to ensure a safe and high standard.

"The public expects a police driver to be of above average ability," said Insp Kirby.

A spokeswoman for Cleveland Police said the force had had no problems with drivers "failing miserably" in its testing procedure.