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The UK's roadside breathalyser celebrates 50th anniversary

Police carried out over half a million roadside breath tests in 2015.

Steve Lewis/Getty Images

As of this weekend drink-drive breathalyser will be 50 years old in the UK.

The first roadside breath-test was carried out by police on a motorist in Shropshire on 8 October, 1967. For context, that's when the Bee Gees were celebrating their number one hit "Massachusetts", Harold Wilson was prime minister and Milton Keynes had just been invented.

The original "blow in the bag" breathalyser was a simple device. It was initially used to confirm a police officer's suspicion that a driver might be drunk, which then had to be followed up by a blood or urine test at the station to provide evidential proof.

"In the first 12 months alone, there were 1000 fewer deaths and 11,000 fewer serious injuries on the roads - proving that the use of the 'drunkometer' was both necessary and justified", said Hunter Abbott, managing director of breathalyser firm AlcoSense Laboratories.

An electronic device was later developed, which allowed officers to accurately quantify an individual's alcohol level on the spot. Blood and urine tests were still required until infrared breath testing in the 1990s offered comparable accuracy.

The criteria for prosecution were less sophisticated before the test was introduced, with officers asking motorists to walk in a straight line or stand on one leg.