POLICE carry out 18,200 fewer alcohol breath tests each year on Essex drivers than a decade ago, it has been revealed.

Brake, the road safety charity, believes the decline is linked to "savage cuts" to police numbers.

It is now calling for better funding and a zero tolerance drink-drive limit.

Home Office statistics show 13,595 breath tests were conducted by Essex Police in 2018 – around 18,200 fewer than in 2009.

Last year a total of 1,589 of drivers refused to do breath tests.

A Brake spokesman said: "Brake is calling for the Government to implement a zero tolerance drink-drive limit, making clear to drivers that not a drop of alcohol is safe, and increase investment in national roads policing to provide the police with the resources they need to tackle the menace of drink-driving.”

Nicholas Lyes, head of roads policy at the RAC, said that while the crime is less socially acceptable than in the past, the battle has not yet been won.

He added: “More road traffic police officers enforcing laws and more breath tests would certainly be welcome, but this should be accompanied by high-profile awareness campaigns.

“The advice to drivers is simple – if you are going out and plan to consume any alcohol whatsoever, leave your vehicle at home and make alternative travel arrangements.”

Police can make someone take a breath test if they suspect they have been driving or trying to drive with alcohol in their body.

It is a crime to refuse a breath test, unless the driver has a reasonable excuse, such as a medical condition.

A Home Office spokesman said a fall in the number of tests could be down to various factors, including increased awareness of the law, and police prosecuting drivers under more serious offences, or choosing other enforcement methods such as education courses.

He added: “We are giving police the tools they need, including recruiting 20,000 new police officers over the next three years, and making it easier for them to use stop and search powers.”

An Essex Police spokesman said plans are in place to increase the number of road traffic officers throughout Essex over the next year.

She said: "In 2018, we arrested 108 more people on suspicion of drink driving than we did in 2017 and up to October 2019, we have arrested 52 more people than we had at the same point last year.

"Every one of our road policing and response officers are trained to use the breath test equipment which indicates the alcohol level in a person's blood and every police car is equipped with this apparatus.

"However, sometimes roadside breath tests are not always the most appropriate way to test a person's alcohol level and a blood test is more suitable."

She said there is an increase in the number of people failing to provide a breath test specimen - with 98 more people failing to do so in 2018 than 2017.

She added: "We carry out a number of operations and campaigns targeted at drink drivers and use information and intelligence to target offenders."