Drivers will have to pass a breath test in order to start their cars under a new voluntary scheme introduced by Durham Constabulary.
The force has become the first in the UK to fit alcohol interlocks to cars. The equipment will disable the car if the driver is over the limit.
Drivers can request the devices, which are already used in the USA and Denmark, free of charge in an attempt to cut the number of drink drivers on the roads and prevent road traffic accidents.
“This really is an innovative project which is a first for the UK and will hopefully help us identify and deal with potential drink drivers before they even get behind the wheel. “A number of offenders in our area have a problematic relationship with alcohol and we hope, as part of a wider programme, this will help them address their issues”.
The pilot project is being run as part of the force’s 'Checkpoint' programme.
Under Checkpoint, offenders are given a chance to avoid a criminal prosecution by taking part in an intensive four-month programme to address the root cause of their problems.
In some instances where drinking is a factor, offenders will be asked to agree to have an alcohol interlock fitted to their car as part of a behaviour contract.
Elsewhere in the world, alcohol interlocks are used as a court-imposed punishment for drink-driving, similar to the choice offered to speeding drivers between accepting points on their licence or attending a speed awareness course.
Currently in the UK, where a drink drive conviction comes with an automatic ban from the roads, they are not imposed by the courts.
“The misuse of alcohol puts a massive strain on our emergency services and the financial burden alone is estimated to be in the region of £11 billion, not to mention the potentially devastating consequences for the families of those killed or injured in road traffic accidents caused by alcohol. “The UK Government has assessed the evidence from other countries and concluded that alcohol interlocks are effective and cost-effective in reducing reoffending. Yet there is no legislation which would allow police forces in the UK to pilot these devices through the courts. “Until there is a change in national policy, Durham Constabulary will use these on a voluntary basis for repeat offenders, those who have a history of problems with alcohol or anyone who thinks could benefit from the system to sign up through the Checkpoint programme”.
If the driver tries to start the car while over the drink-drive limit, the vehicle is immobilised.
If they pass the test, drivers will be asked to pull over and take the test again at random intervals throughout the car journey to ensure they remain sober.
Data is passed back to monitoring officers in real time, using mobile phone technology through the dashboard, to ensure compliance.
The system is a means of forcing regular offenders to address their drinking and also takes potential drink drivers off the roads.
“By identifying those liable to drink and drive hopefully we can prevent them from making that potentially fatal mistake. “If anyone in the force area thinks they would benefit from an alcohol interlock, regardless of whether they are on the Checkpoint programme or not, please get in touch with us on our confidential number and we will fit the system for you. “You could prevent harm to yourselves, a loved one or a member of the wider community”.
In County Durham, a suspected 285 road accidents have been linked to alcohol in the last three years.
Alcohol is also thought to be a significant factor in around half of all violent crimes and around 17 per cent of all domestic abuse cases.
Anyone interested in having an alcohol interlock fitted to their vehicle should call 0191-375 2078 between 8am and 4pm, Monday to Friday.