As the Christmas party season begins and the urge to sneak a quick pint in after work increases, so too does the temptation to get behind the wheel after a drink.
> At this time of year police forces are cracking down even harder on offenders. In Hampshire, Operation Holly is running throughout December and sees large numbers of officers setting up roadside checks across the county. AOL Cars was invited to spend the night with the roads policing team to see what happens.
1900: We're in the briefing room in Totton Police Station, Southampton, and Sgt Glen Barham MBE is briefing the team. Around 20 officers, including a number of volunteer 'Specials', will set up two roadside stop and check zones in the city centre. The idea is to be as "visible as possible" and a successful night will be one that "catches no drink drivers".
1945: We're introduced to Insp Kirsty Shannon, in overall charge of the traffic policing division, and Sgt Lyndon Barrett, who'll be our driver. We jump in the back of a 13-plate BMW 530d and set off towards Winchester. The roadside checks will start at 2100, but before then they've got something they want us to see.
2010: Seeing the Staley's car and the damage drink driving can do puts tonight's operation in stark focus. It's a shocking story and sadly one that is not unusual. Sgt Barrett says: "No one gets in their car thinking they're going to kill someone after they've had a drink, but it happens and people need to think of the consequences."
2015: On the way back to Southampton I ask Insp Shannon who she believes are the worst offenders. "Predominantly older people," she explains. "Think 50 plus, yacht club set, driving posh cars like Jaguars, Mercedes, Audis. I'd say around 75 per cent are older people who drink drive." Sgt Barrett believes younger drivers are far more likely to drive while distracted: "They're constantly checking Facebook or Twitter and not concentrating on their driving."
2130: We arrive at the operation. Cones are set up in a bus lane with flashing blue lights and eight officers are standing in the rain pulling over cars at random. Insp Shannon explains: "The first thing officers will do is have a good sniff, if they can smell alcohol they'll breathalyse the driver. We have to have suspicion of drink driving before we can test them."
Sgt Barrett adds: "However, if they are committing a moving traffic violation – such as they have a light out – we automatically breathalyse them." Over the course of the evening, it's shocking how many drivers do have lights out.
2237: The officers are pulling over a steady stream of drivers. It's amazing how many fail to spot the fluorescent-jacketed policemen and nearly run them down. A 12-plate Mercedes C63 AMG is stopped and his rear tyres have less than 1mm of tread on them. Facing three points and a £100 fine – for each illegal tyre – the driver's face drains of colour. After a grilling officers issue him with a notice that gives him 14 days to rectify the problem and prove to police it's been done. "He genuinely didn't know," said Sgt Barrett. "In some cases it's far better to advise and get the problem rectified than just hand out points and fines."
2245: A teenager in a Vauxhall is pulled over and officers think he's on drugs. They subject him to a FIT test – similar to the American sobriety test. He has to stand on one leg while counting, walk along a line toe to heel, and touch the end of his nose with his eyes closed. If he'd failed the roadside check, further tests would take place back at the station, but he passes and officers send him on his way.
2305: Sgt Barrett puts his hand in the air to stop a car and a following Volkswagen Golf nearly runs into the back of it. A crash is avoided by millimetres. Both drivers are pulled in and it soon becomes apparent why the Golf nearly crashed. The driver is THREE times the drink drive limit. To make matters worse the car's tax is out of date. The female driver, in her early 20s, is clearly drunk. She shouts and swears at the officers as they put her in the back of a car and take her away.
0100: The operation is wrapped up and hailed a success. In total 138 cars were stopped and checked at our location and a similar number were pulled over at the second – and only one drink driver was caught. Insp Shannon says: "That's good news – it means the message is getting through."
0105: On the way back to the station I ask Insp Shannon the question she's asked all too often – how many drinks are too many? "One," she replies. "My advice would be don't even have anything to drink if you're going to drive. The way alcohol affects people is so different – the only way to be safe is to have a soft drink instead. The consequences are just not worth risking."