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Published:  23 July, 2008

Research for the BLRA aims to prevent hard core drink-drivers re-offending

There is no doubt about how aware the public is of the "don't drink and drive" message in the UK. It is no longer socially acceptable, happily, to have "one for the road", but a recent MORI poll shows that seven out of ten people still see drink-driving as a major problem, one which reflects badly on the drinks industry. The truth is that, through the targeted efforts of the police, the government and drinks industry associations, the number of people killed by drink-drivers in Britain has fallen from 1,800 in 1980 to 420 last year. Indeed, Britain boasts the best record in the world in reducing drink-driving offences over the past 20 years, and has the second safest roads in Europe (58 deaths per million inhabitants), after Sweden. Since 1967, when the breathalyser was introduced, private car ownership in Britain has increased to 27 million cars, yet drink-drive fatalities have fallen by 61%. Alcohol is involved in 12% of deaths and 4% of accidents in the UK today. The fact remains, though, that half the drivers killed have a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) level above 150mg (the legal limit is 80mg), showing that some drivers still have a flagrant disregard for the law. The recognition that there is a "hard core" of offenders, whose attitude to drinking and driving has not been changed, prompted the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association (BLRA) to commission detailed research to find out what factors may persuade the hard core not to re-offend. The research was carried out by Market Research Solutions and started with a pilot study in 1999, in which 40 people - including repeat offenders, their partners and teachers - were interviewed in depth. Last year, with the help of the DVLA, a questionnaire was mailed to 20,000 repeat drink-drive offenders in the UK. More than 700 people completed the forms. The results confirmed that the profile of the repeat offender is mainly male (92%), middle aged, and single (53%), with 26% out of work. Many had been convicted more than twice and drank well over the limit, rather than just above it. Their preferred drinks were not high in alcohol, as might be expected, but were mainly beer and cider. Six out of ten still believed that their driving was unaffected or even improved by drinking - only 6% believed they were more likely to have an accident. Furthermore, 80% felt they were extremely unlikely to get caught, and most had been over the limit several times before eventually being apprehended. Faced with such little desire to change, or to see anything wrong in their behaviour, what would stop them drink-driving? Five main answers emerged: l Overwhelmingly, a higher police presence and probability of being caught were cited as key deterrents. At present, 80% thought themselves "unlikely" to be stopped. However, 80% of those questioned said they would be less likely to drink and drive if police patrolled more and called into pubs, for example. l Some 70% of respondents would have been less likely to offend if they had understood the penalty system better. Few realised they could face prison or receive an automatic three-year ban on a second conviction. l Most agreed that when they had been convicted after the first offence they had vowed not to drink and drive again. However, they admitted that over time they had forgotten how disruptive it could be to lose their licence. The research suggested that reminders of the consequences of their actions would help offenders not to drink and drive again. l The need for education is also clear. Ignorance of the effect of alcohol on the body was brought home by the offenders' insistence that they felt safe to drive. Rehabilitation courses, which had been completed by 38% of those questioned, were accepted as useful in comprehending the meaning of units, for showing how alcohol impairs your driving, and to bring home what can happen in terms of accidents - and the consequences - for offenders, their work, their family and potential victims. More than 40% were deterred from attending courses due to their cost, although their disqualification period would be reduced if they completed a course. Those who attended the course overwhelmingly found it useful. l The report also discusses the influence of drinking partners. Respondents said they predominantly drank in social groups which either "turned a blind eye" or were drink-drivers themselves. How to influence these people is harder to determine. Finally, the report covered the effectiveness of advertising on repeat offenders. The most hard-hitting campaigns were those which showed child victims, or the effect that being convicted can have on an offender's job, insurance or family. Interestingly, the deterrent effect of alco-locks (a device which stops the ignition working on a vehicle until a breath test has been performed by the driver), which are used in Canada, Sweden and New Zealand, was not covered. Nor were the possibi