A road safety charity has urged action on drink-driving after the latest government figures revealed there has been little progress in tackling the issue. IAM RoadSmart, spawned from the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said there had been “no improvement” in this area of road safety for more than a decade.

According to the organisation, the latest Department for Transport (DfT) figures showed the number of drink-drive-related accidents rose as traffic levels fell during the first nine months of the coronavirus pandemic. One in six fatal crashes in 2020 involved alcohol, up from one in seven in previous years.

In total, 220 people died in crashes in 2020 when at least one driver was over the drink-drive limit, down from 230 in 2019. But despite that overall reduction in the number of drink-drive-related deaths and serious injuries compared with 2019, IAM RoadSmart says those figures are massaged by the reduction in road traffic caused by lockdowns.

Man at pub drinking beer talking car keys

Over that same period, the total number of crashes where at least one driver was over the alcohol limit hit 4,620 in 2020, an average of 12 crashes a day. Of these crashes, IAM RoadSmart says an estimated 1,070 were serious accidents, representing an average of around 26 serious accidents a week. Even though traffic volumes fell significantly in lockdown, that’s only a relatively minor reduction compared with the 1,390 serious accidents seen during 2019.

Neil Greig, the director of policy and research at IAM RoadSmart, said there were no easy answers to the problems, but called on the government to introduce measures including a lower drink-drive limit. He also asked the government to send more drivers on rehabilitation courses and use alcolocks – devices that require a negative breath test before the car can be started.

Man drinking beer while driving at night in the city

“While there has been a small reduction in the number of drink-driving related deaths and injuries compared to 2019, when you factor in the reduction in traffic due to COVID-19, the role of alcohol in fatal crashes actually went up,” he said. “There is no one simple answer to reducing these figures, but IAM RoadSmart believes a much smarter package of measures is needed from the government including a lower drink-drive limit to reinforce good behaviour, fast-track of evidential roadside testing machines to release police resources and tailored approaches to help drivers with alcohol problems.

“Rehabilitation courses work, and we believe all those convicted of drink-driving should be sent on one automatically rather than having to opt in. More use of alcolocks – which require the driver to blow into a mouthpiece on the device before starting or continuing to operate the vehicle – and extra penalties such as vehicle forfeiture could all be part of a more joined-up approach to the problem. Hard core drink-drivers are simply not getting the message, and these figures will not improve until policy changes.”