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Monday, February 9, 1998 Published at 15:05 GMT

UK: Politics

Random breath-testing moves closer
image: [ Police could lie in wait for drink-drivers ]
Police could lie in wait for drink-drivers

The Home Secretary Jack Straw has backed proposed legislation to give police "discretionary targeting" powers which allow random breath testing.

The proposed legislation has Cabinet backing and is likely to be one of the key Bills outlined in the Queen's speech in the autumn. It could be on the statute books within six months from then.

Under plans outlined by the Transport Minister Gavin Strang police would be able to set up road blocks close to pubs to catch people who are over the legal limit as they drive away. He has since confirmed on BBC Radio that "Random breath testing is an option."

[ image: Mr Straw on his friend's death
Mr Straw on his friend's death "That kind of thing stays with you."
Mr Straw is working with the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to push through the proposals and there will be more concrete plans at the end of the current consultation period.

The Home Secretary has a particular interest in the issue after a close friend at Leeds University died in a car crash and was later found to have been drinking.

Stubborn death toll

The moves spearhead government attempts to reduce the number of deaths on British roads due to alcohol. Despite vigorous anti-drink driving campaigns in recent years, the annual alcohol-related death-toll has stuck at around 500.

Anti-drink driving campaigners say that a hard-core of drink-drivers is responsible for preventing the continued reduction in the death-toll. They say that the only way to catch these offenders is for police to have the power to stop drivers at random.

However there is concern from civil rights groups who fear that the powers could be abused by officers. At present police only have the power to stop drivers at random in the City of London, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Otherwise, drivers can only be stopped and breathalysed after an accident or a crime has occurred.

The proposal looks certain to be brought in alongside measures to bring down the legal limit for drinking and driving from 80mgs of alcohol in the blood to 50mgs.

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