Posts Tagged 'alcohol'

The near and the dear ones, the old and the young…

We’re now four days into our annual Christmas drink and drug drive campaign and with every patrol car in Walsall and across the West Midlands carrying freshly calibrated breathalyser kits, our officers have been keeping the pressure on people considering driving after drinking with regular stop checks and operations.

I know that in the past few days there have been at least three arrests made by my shift alone for drink driving with one motorist found to be three times over the legal limit when he was tested at the station.

Sadly alcohol remains the primary factor in a quarter of all fatal road accidents and last year, males in their early twenties were the most likely to either fail or refuse a breath test following a traffic accident.

It can take many hours for alcohol levels to fall to safe levels following a night out and many people are caught the morning after – the only reliable way to avoid the risk is not to drink at all.

The above video only hints at how horrific the consequences of driving after drink of drugs can be – please, please don’t risk it.


Too much alcohol…

There’s been a lot of talk in the news recently about proposals to tackle the negative impact of excess alcohol consumption by introducing a minimum unit price. Plans to introduce supporting legislation are already in motion in the Scottish Parliament and David Cameron appears keen to introduce a similar system in England.

As it’s the health and emergency services that tend to bare the brunt of the problems that stem from people drinking themselves into a stupor, I dare say that changes aimed at tackling the issue will be welcomed.

To illustrate why binge drinking causes such an issue for us, and by extension for the public who foot the bill, consider these examples to show how alcohol regular impacts on the service we are able to offer-

Example one – An aggressive, drunken male is brought into custody.

As drunks rarely see reason, repeated requests for him to leave a location have been ignored and as such he has had to be forcibly restrained and arrested. Additional officers have to escort him to the cell block and ensure that he is admitted into custody safely. A medical practitioner has to be called to attend the station to assess when the male will be fit to be dealt with and will likely say that he’ll need six or seven hours to sober up. Welfare checks will need to be conducted at regular intervals and should he begin with withdraw from alcohol, officers may be called back to the station to escort him to hospital thereby committing them for several hours.

Example two – A drunken female is the victim of a domestic assault

We attend and an arrest is made. As soon as the prisoner has been allocated a cell we return to the scene with a view to obtaining a statement. As the female is intoxicated we take a short ‘holding statement’ confirming that she would like to pursue a complaint but is too drunk to provide an account at the current time. As such rather than being able to investigate the matter there and then, other officers have to re-attend later to talk to her when sober. A statement may eventually be obtained although its accuracy is likely compromised as she struggles to remember the particulars of the assault. Meanwhile the prisoner occupies a valuable cell space.

Example three – In the early hours of the morning officers encounter a drunken female slumped on the pavement after a night out

Being vulnerable and alone, we have a duty to ensure that the girl makes it home safely. There’s no sign of her friends and she’s barely able to tell us her name, let alone where she lives. What are we able to do? If her condition justifies it an ambulance will be called and she’ll end up taking a place in the queue at A&E. If we are able to get some sense out of her we do our best to reunite her with her friends who can take care of her. Either way officers have been tied up with a problem self-inflicted by drinking too much.

Examples such of these will be familiar to officers across the country and as you can imagine, can pose a significant strain on our resources. Whilst we’re spending time sorting out similar issues, we’re not able to answer the calls for service that urgently need our attention.

Solutions don’t come easily but when people’s lives are at risk – an estimated 200,000 avoidable alcohol related deaths over the next twenty years – we are compelled to find an answer.

In my view minimum pricing is certainly a step in the right direction. I’ll not name the brands but most of the problem drinkers we encounter are found necking the same products, favoured for their balance between bargain price and high alcoholic content.

The strategy is far from an elixir though and if we are to be successful in saving the legion of those at risk from excessive alcohol consumption, I can see that the following considerations will be equally as important -

  • Good support network to address alcoholism and its causes – Pricing alcohol so that it is outside people’s ability to binge on it should help but why do people want to binge in the first place? We already have charities such as Addaction working inside our cell blocks, and where drinkers accept that they have an issue and genuinely want to change, success can be achieved with dedicated counseling and medical support.*
  • Responsible retailing – The Licensing Act provides a good framework for the sale of alcohol and gives us power to deal with issues arising from problem selling. Traders – particularly off licences – have an important role to play as they stand at the very source of the problem and more confidence in turning away problem customers may help.
  • Tackling our drinking culture –  The big issue and one to which there’s no ready answer – why is it that in the UK drinking to excess is seen to be synonymous with having a good time? Why can alcohol be sold cheaply on the Continent and not attract problems on the scale that we see here?

With the cost of alcohol related crime estimated at around £15 billion a year, the total spend including health care and loss of productivity perhaps being as high as £25 billion and when there’s such an economic need to make savings, both the financial and human costs of the issue have to be addressed conclusively. To put these figures into context, we spent around £5 billion on policing last year.

Minimum pricing will hopefully help, no one’s saying it will solve the problem alone, however with such a crippling expense any step towards tackling alcohol abuse is a step in the right direction.

*On the subject of support charities, I was recently doing a cell watch on a prisoner who told me he drinks thirty pints of beer a day. He also told me that he had voluntarily submitted himself to an alcohol clinic and was slowly seeing improvements – there was light at the end of the tunnel.

I’m going out for a little drive and it could be the last time you see me alive…

…more than just a few words.

Who’s going to drive you home tonight?

Drink and driving - never a good mix.

During my time as a police officer I’ve arrested people for many different things. Week in week out we deal with allegations of assaults, thefts and criminal damage with the arrest forming part of the routine and nothing particularly remarkable.

Arresting a drink driver is different.

It’s almost personal – here is someone who has thought that having consumed drink after drink it is acceptable to get behind the wheel and put everyone else’s safety at risk. Not concerned – or just oblivious to the risk – they’re happy to assume that the alcohol in their system won’t affect their ability to operate their vehicle and as a consequence often find out otherwise only when they’re being brought back to consciousness in A&E.

Taking a drink driver off the roads before this can happen is one of the best parts of the job and I think I’d go as far to say that an arrest for driving whilst above the limit is one of the most rewarding that we make.

We’re trained to spot the signs that someone’s taken to the wheel after taking to the bottle and also know where to look, focusing on the hotspots where we know drink driving can be common. This said, even without this training spotting drink drivers is often quite straightforward. The last one I arrested had given himself away by swerving into the path of oncoming traffic before drifting back into the curb. The one before this had probably thought he was okay to drive and was doing a reasonable job of keeping the car driving in a straight line. Problem was it was night and he’d forgotten to turn on his headlights.

Legally speaking, drink driving is covered by two relevant offences. The first is the most obvious – driving whilst above the prescribed limit – which is covered by Section 5 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. This states that it is illegal to drive a vehicle on a road or public place whilst above the prescribed limit which is 35 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath, 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood or 107 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine.

The second is driving whilst unfit through drink or drugs, Section 4 of the Act. This means that a person can be arrested if a constable suspects their ability to drive is impaired by the amount they have drunken or something they have taken with the determination that this is the case usually made by a doctor following arrest.

There are also further offences to help prosecute people who have been caught attempting to drive their vehicle whilst either of the above sections apply or are simply in charge of a vehicle whilst drunk or under the influence of drugs.

Following a stop of a suspected drunk driver, the first thing we’ll look to do is to administer a road side breath test which gives us an indication as to whether the person is over the limit. The units are regularly calibrated but do not give a reading that we could use at court and so following a positive sample, we’ll arrest the person and take them into custody.

At the station as soon as they’ve been booked on by the sergeant we’ll lead them through to the ‘intox room’ where we have a machine which does the same as the road side test but much more accurately and which gives us a read out that can be used as evidence. We ask some mandatory questions about the suspect’s health and then require two breath samples to be given.

After a short pregnant pause not dissimilar to a host at the Oscars stalling before announcing the Best Film winner, the machine jumps into life and loudly begins printing out the results. A positive reading means the person is sent to a cell to sober up and then is charged to appear before a judge who hopefully will hand out a driving ban, mandatory points and a fine. A negative reading means the person is free to go.

Both at the road side and in the custody block, the requirement to provide a breath sample is not optional and if they refuse without good reason they commit an offence against Section 7 of the Act and can be charged with failing to provide a sample for analysis.

When I mention ‘good reason’ for not providing a breath test, these reasons are limited to medical reasons. Complaints of being ‘short of breath’, ‘too nervous’ or refusing to give a sample without a solicitor present are not good reasons and are likely to see a person charged with failing to provide.

If there are legitimate medical grounds for not providing a sample, a medical practitioner will be called and a sample of blood taken. The suspect will then be bailed whilst the sample is sent to a lab for analysis.

The Road Traffic Act also contains provisions for officers to force entry to arrest persons who he or she suspects has been driving whilst above the prescribed limit, whilst unfit through drink or drugs. There is a further power to force entry to administer a breath test where a road traffic accident has happened during which someone has been injured.

When it comes to estimating whether you are above the limit or not, there are no easy or reliable ways of safely knowing if it is safe for you to drive. Gender, body mass and other factors can affect how quickly you will pass the legal limit meaning counting units is not an accurate guide to keeping within the law.

Best advice is always to either not drink at all if you are driving, to either arrange a designated driver or better still, book a taxi.

The standard warnings of ‘you’ll loose your licence, loose your job’ etc are perfectly valid and good reasons not to risk drink driving however the real impact is on the families of the victims and drunk drivers themselves who tragically find the lives of loved ones permanently altered or ended as a result.

The impact too is with the members of the emergency services who are called out to the scene of accidents involving drunken drivers and who in the aftermath find themselves removing valuables from bodies, bagging up blood soaked clothing and taking the slow walk up someone’s drive to deliver the worst news imaginable.

It’s because we have to do things like this that I’d encourage anyone risking ‘one for the road’ to think long and hard before they climb behind the wheel – the consequences are very real and often irreversible.

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