Police to give breathalyser tests to every driver they stop

Traffic police in the Czech Republic have a new year’s resolution, and that is to cut the increasing rate of accidents in the country that are related to driving under the influence of alcohol. With the number of alcohol-related road deaths on the rise from year to year, in 2010 the police are going to introduce the somewhat radical measure of giving a breathalyser test to every driver they stop. Christian Falvey has the story.

The Czech Republic will become the first country in the European Union to introduce breathalyser tests as standard procedure whenever a police officer stops a vehicle. The reason for that unique measure is the uniquely woeful statistics on alcohol-related road deaths. 83 people lost their lives in drink-driving accidents between January and November of this year, more than for the whole of 2008 together. Leoš Tržil is the head of the traffic police.

Leoš Tržil
“The measure is a response to developments this year regarding alcohol and the … There has been a decrease of 54% in the number of traffic investigations and traffic accidents, but there has not been a corresponding decline in alcohol-related accidents. This shows that in many traffic accidents, where there is alcohol there are injuries and deaths, and the statistics show the same thing. This year’s results have been truly tragic.”

Thus, if you get pulled over on a Czech road at random or for the most minor of infractions, you will have your breath tested. It may sound like a nuisance, but in practice you may not even notice what is happening. Another reason why the police are implementing this procedure now is that they have the technology to do it without the bother you might expect.

“What it means in practice is that whenever a vehicle is stopped a kind of sample breathalyser test will be made. That doesn’t mean that you will have to blow into the machine, because the machines we use can test your breath while you are speaking and give a positive or negative alcohol reading and the driver can carry on.”

Illustrative photo: Kristýna Maková
The 400 new devices that the police have procured in recent weeks to prepare for the new policy are as good as blood tests in a court of law, but that is not how they are used. If the remote device detects alcohol use then the driver will have to take the standard breathalyser test. In the view of traffic expert Stanislav Huml, the policy is a good one, but only as long as the police take it as seriously in practice as they do in principle.

“The number of deaths is truly shocking and it’s a real warning sign. So the state authorities really have to take some kind of reasonable measure, and I think this is one way to do it. But in my opinion the success of this idea rests primarily on the police, and how actively they will in fact deal with the crime of driving under the influence of alcohol. If they are active, that’s good. But if they are lax and don’t really carry out the checks – basically where there is no monitoring there is no discipline.”

The Czech Republic has a zero-tolerance drink driving policy – an important point to remember for drivers crossing the border, as all of the neighbouring states except for Slovakia allow some small blood/alcohol limit.