HALF of Britain's drivers and motorbike riders admit to drink-driving, says a survey published today.
Brake, the national road safety group, based in Huddersfield, said the figures were alarming. Its leaders are calling for a tougher drink-drive level and more breath tests.
Brake said police should be handed powers to carry out random checks - which should concentrate on areas near pubs and clubs.
The survey, carried out by Brake for Green Flag Motoring Assistance, was released as the annual Christmas anti-drink-driving campaign was launched.
More than a quarter of respondents (28%) admitted driving after consuming two or more units of alcohol, and one in 10 admitted driving after drinking three or more units. Nearly a quarter (22%) said they had driven after consuming one unit of alcohol.
Road Safety Minister David Jamieson urged motorists to stay sober when driving during the Christmas and New Year period.
His message coincided with the start of TV advertising that will run until the New Year. Last year there were an estimated 560 drink-drive deaths - a 6% increase on 2001.
Brake chief executive Mary Williams said: "The war against drink-drivers has not been won.
"The findings highlight a lethal ignorance of the drink-drive law and the effects of drink-driving and widespread levels of drink-driving.
"Drivers should never drink and drive - not even one - and Brake is calling on the Government to take urgent action."
One thousand drivers and motorbike riders took part in the survey, the first of a series of reports examining the behaviour and attitudes of Britain's 26m drivers. It also found widespread confusion among drivers about the alcohol content of drinks.
Half got it wrong when asked which drink they thought contained more alcohol - two 25ml shots of vodka or one pint of 5.8% lager.
They failed to come up with the correct answer that the vodka has about two units of alcohol, while the lager contains about three.
One in four did not know the time they last ate can have an effect.
The findings also show many think they are not affected by one or two drinks and believe they will not be caught if they drink and drive.
Many admitted they would drive the morning after drinking heavily.
Despite decades of Government warnings, deaths and injuries where alcohol has been a factor have risen by a third in the past decade. The figure stood at 14,980 in 1993 but rose to 20,140 in 2002.
A Green Flag spokeswoman said: "Most drivers do behave responsibly. But there is still the hardcore who think they can take the risks."
Brake is calling for:
* A lowering of the drink-drive limit from 80mg per 100ml of blood to 50mg per 100ml of blood, in line with EU recommendations.
* A Home Office requirement for police forces to carry out more drink-drive testing in the evening, during the night and first thing in the morning.
* Compulsory rehabilitation courses for all drink and drugged drivers.
* Government funding for year-round media campaigns on the dangers of drink-driving.
Warning to young binge drinkers
POLICE in Calderdale are stepping up their "win back the streets" campaign by targeting under-age drinking.
With the help of Cragrats React, the Holmfirth theatre-in-education company, young people from the area will learn the dangers of under-age and binge drinking.
Pupils from more than 10 secondary schools will watch a production, One For The Road?, before taking part in a workshop which allows them to coach the play's characters towards a better attitude to alcohol.
The first show went on at Brighouse High School.
Chief Insp Bill Hall said: "The initiative teaches not drinking to excess, not putting yourself in danger, and also looking after your friends."
Pupils from years 9, 10 and 11 in local schools will design posters encapsulating the messages from the shows.
Winning entrants will see their designs displayed in pubs and clubs across Calderdale.
Related stories and messageboards