Durham Police is going to offer drink-driving offenders new devices which will breathalyse them before their car starts.
The pilot scheme, which is the first for the UK, uses “interlocks” to immobilise cars if the driver is over the legal limit.
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.
Durham Police says the devices are already common in the US and Denmark, and are being offered free of charge in the force’s area to offenders on a voluntary basis.
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.”
The devices are being rolled out as part of Durham Police’s Checkpoint programme, which targets offenders’ behaviour to cut crime.
Ron Hogg, Durham’s police and crime commissioner, said: “The misuse of alcohol puts a massive strain on our emergency services and the financial burden alone is estimated to be in the region of £11bn, not to mention the potentially devastating consequences for the families of those killed or injured in road traffic accidents caused by alcohol.
“The UK government has assessed the evidence from other countries and concluded that alcohol interlocks are effective and cost-effective in reducing reoffending.
“Yet there is no legislation which would allow police forces in the UK to pilot these devices through the courts.
“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.”