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 also 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.
Detective Inspector Andy Crowe, leading the initiative, 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 pilot is being run as part of the force’s Checkpoint programme, which aims to cut crime by focusing on offenders’ behaviour.
The force said elsewhere in the world these devices can be fitted as part of a drink-driver’s sentence by the courts.
Durham Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg 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 £11 billion, 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 re-offending.
“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.”
The devices make drivers take a breath test before setting off and again at random points during a journey.
Data is sent to officers in real-time using mobile phone technology.
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.”