Skip to content

Coronavirus (COVID-19): the policing response and what you need to know

As lockdown drinking soars, police target drink and drug drivers putting others at risk

Avon and Somerset Police are part of a nationwide operation targeting motorists who choose to drink/drug drive throughout December as Op Tonic, the annual Christmas roads policing operation, gets underway (1 December).  The activity comes as research shows over a fifth of people in the UK admitting to drinking more since lockdown began.

With the aim of reducing fatal and serious road traffic collisions and protecting other road users, the campaign carries a strong message that anyone who decides to get behind the wheel after a drink or two or having taken drugs faces the real prospect of ending up behind bars this festive season.

In December 2019, Avon and Somerset Police charged 130 people with driving or being in charge of a vehicle when under the influence of drink or drugs.

This year’s drink drive operation comes after research carried out by Drinkaware showed that 22% of people in the UK – around 11.7 million – are drinking more since the lockdown began. Data also reveals that those who are drinking more are likely to be doing so on more days than usual, having their first alcoholic drink earlier in the day, drinking alone, finding it difficult to stop at one drink or drinking to cope with the day.

Whilst the initial lockdown saw dramatically fewer cars on the roads, the number of vehicles is almost back at normal levels and, with busier than usual roads predicted over Christmas between 23 and 27 December, police are keen to remind motorists that getting into the driving seat could carry severe consequences.

Chief Inspector Jason Shears said: “We understand this year has been an incredibly difficult for most of us and we want people to celebrate Christmas and enjoy themselves. However, with drinking on the increase, we need drivers to be aware that there is absolutely no excuse for getting behind the wheel whilst intoxicated.

“We will be policing the roads and the chances of being caught, losing your licence – and potentially your job – and spending time over Christmas in one of our cells is high. This will be followed with a criminal record and the potential for up to six months’ imprisonment.

“Anyone who causes a death while drink or drug driving faces up to 14 years’ imprisonment and, while it might feel like it will never happen to you, I can assure you we have seen many people ruin their own and others’ lives in this way.

“We’re asking people to instead look out for each other, encourage friends and family not to drive if they plan to drink and if you are travelling, arrange a designated driver who won’t drink and will take responsibility for getting everyone home safely.

“While 2020 has been anything but normal, December for us will be business as usual and we want to reassure the public that we will be on patrol, responding to reports and helping to ensure that those who put others’ lives in danger are taken off the roads.”

The public are also being called on to play their part and report if they see someone getting behind the wheel having been drinking or taking drugs, with police reminding people that they could save lives by doing so. Last year police received 218 reports from the public with 73% of these attended or resolved, with the remainder informing patrol plans.

Information published by the road safety charity Brake shows that even when someone is only just over the legal limit they are still six times more likely to be involved in a fatal collision than someone who has drunk nothing.

Drivers should be aware of the risks of driving not only on the day of drinking but on the morning after.

If someone is habitually drinking or abusing drugs and driving this can be reported online or by calling 101. If someone is currently driving under the influence of drink or drugs, call 999.

Independent alcohol advice, information and tools to help people make better choices about their drinking can be found at www.drinkaware.co.uk

Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens said: “Undeniably, we are going to have a very different festive period. However, there will still be the temptation for some to have a few drinks and think it is okay to drive. Remember, driving under the influence of drink or drugs is a serious crime that can have devastating consequences.

“2020 has been a year of personal responsibility and this must be extended to the festive season; we all know you shouldn’t drink and drive. Follow the rules, look out for each other and organise any travel arrangements in advance. Even being ‘slightly’ over the limit will still land you with a penalty if you’re caught and it’s really not worth the risk.”