CAMBRIDGESHIRE: Our reporter's 'drink drive' experience that carries an important message

OUR reporter Adam Lazzari was given the opportunity to drink and drive this week. It was at the launch of Cambridgeshire County Council and Police Force s Christmas anti-drink driving campaign. However there was an important message behind his task, to sh

OUR reporter Adam Lazzari was given the opportunity to drink and drive this week.

It was at the launch of Cambridgeshire County Council and Police Force's Christmas anti-drink driving campaign.

However there was an important message behind his task, to show how impaired you can become, even after a limited amount of alcohol.

OF the 158 people arrested in Cambridgeshire for drink driving during the Christmas period last year, 95 per cent were male. Almost half of that amount was aged 17-25.

It is therefore no surprise that the county council and police have targeted this demographic in their campaign.

To highlight the effect alcohol has on a person's driving ability the county council's road safety officer Phil Rennie invited me to get drunk and play the Mario Kart driving game on the Nintendo Wii console.

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It will surprise many readers that my performance on the game was better after two pints of IPA than it was before I started drinking, and I don't think this will be the message the county council and police were aiming for when they set up this experiment.

However, I put this down to nothing other than the fact that I had never played the game on this console before and I was simply getting the hang of it.

Any contrary theory was soon put to bed. After my fourth pint my driving was all over the place and before long I was hitting the wall at nearly every bend.

Tony Barrios, casualty reduction officer with Cambridgeshire Police, gave me a breath test as I was starting my third pint and I was surprised to discover that I had passed and was still legally allowed to drive.

But, one swift gulp later and after another blow on the machine and I failed.

Officer Barrios said: "The legal limit is 35 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath.

"In practical terms there is no clear way of defining how many pints or glasses of wine will keep you under the limit. It will depend on what you've eaten on that day and different drinks have different strengths. It also takes time for alcohol to go through the system so you may have a situation where somebody leaves a pub under the limit and is over the limit by the time they reach their car.

"My advice would be to not drink anything at all if you're going to drive. People should also be aware of what a state they will be in the morning after a night's drinking."

Officer Barrios then explained what would happen if my breath test had been carried out on the side of the road after driving a car.

He said: "You would be arrested and taken to the police station. It's highly likely that you would then appear before magistrates and lose your licence for a year. You could also face up to six months in prison or a £5,000 fine. You would probably lose your job as well."

Having a police officer say those words to you is a very sobering experience and it amazes me how many people are prepared to put their livelihood at risk for the sake of a few drinks.

But losing a job pales in comparison to some of the other tragedies that can be caused by drink driving.

Officer Barrios said: "I've had to visit families on Christmas Day to tell them that a loved one had died after a road accident involving a drink driver. It's the worst thing I've ever had to do and I know many colleagues who have done the same."

Mr Rennie said: "Young male drivers are significantly over represented in drink driving figures across the county. I urge drivers to consider not just their own safety this Christmas but that of other road users.

"By using the Wii game we are not trivialising drink driving but trying to capture the imagination of the 'console generation' and to get across he crucial message that drink driving kills people and ruins lives.

"Drinking and driving should be kept to console games because there is no re-set button in real life."

Fact File

n Last year national statistics show that approximately one in five drivers killed were over the legal alcohol limit for driving a motor vehicle.

n One hundred and fifty eight people were arrested for drink driving in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough last year, during the Christmas period, 95 per cent of that number were men and almost half of that 95 per cent were aged between 17 and 25.

n Last year saw 117 drink drive accidents in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. That is 4.1 per cent of the 2,887 total accidents recorded in the county throughout the year.

n There were 1,555 breath test failures and hence drink drive arrests in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough last year, a decrease on numbers in 2005 (1,692) and 2006 (1,638).

n The Christmas period accounted last year for more than 10 per cent of drink drive arrests, throughout the county over the year.

n On average, almost three people a month are arrested in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough for drink driving between 4am and noon. Nearly all are over the limit from drinking the previous night.

n More than 1,500 people were convicted of drink driving in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough last year.