The number of breathalyser tests conducted by police in England and Wales fell by 15 percent last year, according to new figures published recently.

Home Office data showed that just under 326,000 breath tests were carried out by police in 2017 - down almost 56,000 on 2016’s 382,000 tests.

The data also shows that 2017 saw the lowest number of tests conducted since collection of the data began in 2002.

In fact, the number of tests has fallen steadily since 2012, when almost 570,000 tests were carried out, while the proportion of motorists testing positive for drink-driving or refusing to take a breath test has risen from 11 percent to 14 percent.

However, as the number of people being tested has fallen, so too has the number of people caught with more than the legal limit of 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100 ml of breath.

Drinking beer or alcoho while driving a car

In 2009, when more than 670,000 people were breath tested, around 74,000 people (11 percent) tested positive or refused to take the test. In 2017, however, just under 45,000 people (14 percent) of the 326,000 tests were positive or refused.

Of those 326,000 tests, a fifth (66,648) were carried out as part of the annual December crackdown on drink-driving, although the huge increase in tests caught out just 11 percent (4,816) of the total number of drivers caught.

A noticeable increase occurred in June, too, although the 36,000 tests (11 percent of the 2017 total) conducted that month caught just seven percent of the year’s offenders.

Police car in London in motion

On average, around 27,000 tests were conducted each month, with an average of roughly 3,700 offenders caught. In 2016, those averages stood at around 38,600 and 4,900 respectively.

The news comes as fatal accidents involving drink-driving are on the increase. Hunter Abbott, the managing director of breathalyser firm AlcoSense, said drink-driving deaths were up by almost a third.

“We’ve seen yet another significant decline in breath tests carried out by police, but fatal road accidents involving illegal alcohol levels have risen by 30 percent year-on-year,” he said.

Car key with alcohol drinks on a table in a pub

“Four percent of drivers breathalysed after an accident are over the limit – the highest proportion in 10 years, but only 44 percent of drivers involved in a crash are actually being tested, compared with 56 percent 10 years ago.”

Abbott blamed the problem on a lack of funding and reduced traffic officer numbers, claiming that the government should take action to improve safety for road users.

“The latest figures show that the 25 percent decrease in traffic officers since 2012 has directly resulted in a reduction in road safety,” he said. “We call on the government to boost funding and resources for better enforcement of drink drive laws.”

Police car roof flashers in the city