New legislation will give the PSNI fresh powers to perform random breath tests at vehicle checkpoints from midnight tonight (Thursday).
Confirmation on the move comes as police launched their annual winter drink drive operation today.
It also comes after recent figures showed that the Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council area had the highest number of road fatalities over the past year of all 11 council areas.
The PSNI is determined to target tipplers relentlessly and to the best of their abilities endeavour to ensure no lives are lost this festive period as a result of drink drivers behind the wheel.
Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd explained: “Our basic message remains the same; there is no safe limit, so never EVER drink and drive. This new legislation gives police another tool that will hopefully help us to prevent people taking life-threatening, unacceptable, simply stupid risks.
“Previously, police officers needed a reasonable suspicion about the manner of someone’s driving, have seen a moving traffic offence, or been called to a collision before requiring a preliminary breath test from a driver. The new legislation means we can now establish vehicle checkpoints solely for the purpose of carrying out random breath tests, something which we hope will act as an even more visible, physical deterrent.
“During last year’s operation, we detected 375 people who’d decided to risk killing or injuring themselves, their family, friends or other innocent road users by deciding to drive after drinking.
“Just one drink can impair ability to drive. Considering that in some instances, we have stopped drivers who were so drunk, they could barely stand when they got out of their vehicle, just beggars belief.
“At the other end of the spectrum, we detected some drivers who had gone out socialising and not intended to drive, but their circumstances changed and they decided to take a risk. A risk which inevitably results in a driving ban,” he said.
In addition to running operations to catch drink drivers throughout the day and night, in the weeks leading up to Christmas and into the New Year, police will again coordinate road safety operations in border counties with colleagues from An Garda Síochána Traffic Corp.
Assistant Chief Constable Todd continued: “Let me be absolutely clear. If you find yourself asking the question, I wonder if I’m ok to drive? The answer is; you are not. Do not take the risk. The consequences, as police officers and our emergency service colleagues witness first hand, can be catastrophic.
“In addition to the checkpoints, any driver or motorcyclist we stop, whether for speeding, using a mobile phone, or committing any moving traffic offence can expect to be breathalysed. So too can anyone involved in a collision or who we suspect may have consumed alcohol or taken drugs.
“I want all motorists to think about the consequences to yourself and your family of being involved in a serious collision. How would you feel if your actions resulted in you or one of your family being paralysed? How would you feel if some innocent person was killed? Consider too the impact of losing your driving license. Would you also lose your job? Your home?
“To date this year 61 people have lost their lives in crashes on our roads and many more have been seriously injured, so I am also appealing for all road users and pedestrians to exercise caution and put road safety first.
“With longer hours of darkness and winter weather, road users need to make extra effort to look out for pedestrians and cyclists particularly along rural roads. Pedestrians and cyclists should wear bright clothing, reflective jackets or armbands where possible to ensure they can be seen.
“Our aim with this operation is to keep people safe. People need to put as much effort into planning how to get home safely, as they do planning their night out. I do not want police officers knocking on doors at any time of the year, but especially over Christmas and the New Year, to tell families that a loved one has been killed on the roads.”
Assistant Chief Constable Todd concluded, “If everyone slowed down, did not drive after drinking or taking drugs, wore a seatbelt and drove with greater care and attention then together we can reduce this preventable carnage on our roads.”
Supt David Moore, District Commander of Armagh, Banbridge & Craigavon District, said: “Through better design, cars are thought to be safer, but people need to understand that having a safer car does not mean that you can drive carelessly without due care and attention.
“We are committed to making our roads safer for everyone and we would remind road users that we all have a responsibility in achieving this.”