Police are to offer drink-drivers new devices which will breath-test them before their car starts in a first for the UK.
Durham Police will pilot the scheme to fit alcohol “interlocks”, which mean the vehicle will be immobilised if the driver is over the limit.
The devices are already commonplace in the US and Denmark, and are being offered to offenders on a voluntary basis.
They will be offered free of charge to anyone in the force area who wants one as part of a bid by police to cut the number of road accidents.
Drivers will be forced to take a breath test before starting their car and again at random points during a journey, with the results sent to police officers in real time via a mobile network.
Elsewhere in the world, the devices can be fitted to cars as part of a court sentence for people found guilty of drink-driving.
Andy Crow, the detective inspector leading the move, said: “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.”
Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner for Durham, Ron Hogg, explained at whom the interlocks would be aimed: “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”.
Hogg added alcohol misuse puts a “massive strain” on emergency services and had the potential to cause “potentially devastating consequences”. The costs of the devices is being borne by their American maker, Smart Start.
The system is a means of forcing regular offenders to address their drinking and also takes potential drink drivers off the roads.
Mr Crowe added: “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.”