On the beat with the drink-drive patrol

If you are intent on drink-driving, they are intent on catching you. JON WELCH spent an evening with traffic police in Norwich during their Christmas enforcement campaign.

If you are intent on drink-driving, they are intent on catching you. JON WELCH spent an evening with traffic police in Norwich during their Christmas enforcement campaign.

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It's approaching 9pm on Newmarket Road in Norwich. A policeman with a radar gun clocks a VW Golf speeding into the city, and a colleague steps into the road to flag it down.

The driver, a young man in his early 30s, pulls over and is spoken to by a police officer, and then breath-tested. Fortunately for him it's negative, and he's allowed to go on his way with just a warning about his excessive speed.

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This is how Sgt Ade Hales and his team of traffic officers spend most evenings during December. Norfolk police's month-long Christmas drink-drive crackdown is in full swing, and it's their job to enforce it.

And tonight that means high-profile checks on traffic using main routes into Norwich city centre. Having parked unobtrusively just beyond a slight bend in the road, they're perfectly placed.

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Sgt Hales explains that police officers can breath-test motorists for three reasons: if they've committed a moving road traffic offence, if they've been involved in an accident, or if there is reason to suspect they may have been drinking.

“During the Christmas period it's recognised that there is a higher risk of drink-driving so more checks are done,” he says.

His officers don't have to wait too long. This stretch of road might have a 30mph speed limit, but it is wide and relatively straight, which many motorists take as an invitation to speed.

Thanks to the radar gun, those who do are quickly identified and waved over. Then they are spoken to by officers and have their vehicle checked over for defects - and are breath-tested.

A young woman in a Fiat Punto is pulled over for having a faulty offside headlight, while other drivers get the same treatment for having their fog lamps on.

Most of them escape with a warning. It's drink-driving that is the police's priority tonight.

Sgt Hales and his officers are aiming not just to catch offenders, but to act as a high-visibility deterrent.

“We're sending out a clear message to people on Norfolk's roads that we aren't going to put up with it. If you drink and drive, expect to see us in your rear view mirror,” he says.

“If you are going to go out and enjoy yourself over the festive period have a designated driver so you can get home safely.”

He warns drivers not to even try to calculate how much they can drink. “People ask what the limit is, but the safest answer is not to drink at all if you're driving.

“It all comes down to how used you are to drinking, your bodyweight, how much you have had to eat and how quickly your body processes alcohol.”

Drink-drivers can expect to receive a 12-month ban, and to be banned for three years if they offend again within 10 years.

Alongside police are licensing officers from Broadland, South Norfolk and Norwich councils, who are carrying out checks on taxis and private hire vehicles.

They are ensuring the drivers and the vehicles are properly licensed, and that they are roadworthy and safe.

Sgt Hales and his colleagues stay on Newmarket Road for about an hour, before moving on to Riverside Road in the heart of the city's nightlife district. Meanwhile, other officers are carrying out checks in Aylsham Road, Dereham Road and Yarmouth Road.

During the evening, police in Norwich will stop and breath-test 65 drivers. All are negative. They also give out one fixed penalty notice and issue one defect notice.

Their council colleagues inspect 39 taxis and private hire vehicles, issuing three “unfit” notices for minor defects.

They may not have caught any drink-drivers, but for Sgt Hales, the operation has been a success. “We've done a series of high-profile checks, stopping 104 vehicles and carrying out 65 breath tests. While there have been no positive breath tests, we've sent out a very clear message and it's been a positive night.”

So far in December, police in Norfolk have stopped and breath-tested 1,550 motorists. Forty have tested positive.

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