Policy - drink drive limit


Lowering the drink drive limit

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The debate on the maximum permitted blood alcohol limit for drivers has been reignited following the Scottish Government's decision to lower the limit north of the border and by the recent increase in drink related deaths in 2011. Surveys of the public also show a consistently high degree of support for a lower limit.

The UK legal limit was set in 1967 at a level where impairment was undeniable - 80 milligrams of alcohol for 100 millilitres of blood (0.8). Recent research suggests that impairment begins at 0.5 and lowering the limit could save at least 40 lives a year on Britain’s roads. We are now out of step with the rest of Europe where most countries have adopted the lower limit of 0.5. 260 people were killed in drink drive accidents in 2013, an increase of 30 (13%) compared with 230 in 2012.

Recent trends show that drink driving is most common amongst young drivers and that police still caught nearly five thousand drivers over the limit across England last year. Most were stopped by routine patrols rather than as the result of a crash.

The IAM acknowledges that a lower limit could risk diverting police resources from catching the most dangerous offenders who pay little regard to any limit, but it would also send a very powerful signal on drinking and driving. For the moment, the government is committed to keeping the current legal limit of 0.8 but this approach can only work if there is vigorous and focused enforcement on drink driving. Given the recent cuts in police budgets and the rise in drink related deaths it is clear the battle has been not yet been won and the ‘status quo’ is not good enough.

IAM recommendations

  • The IAM believes that a new consultation is needed now to reflect the growing support among the general public and a range of influential organisations, including the police, for a lower limit
  • Consistent high profile enforcement effort is needed to ensure that the recent increase in deaths does not become an upward trend
  • Education campaigns targeting young drivers are needed to reinforce the anti drink drive message
  • Only 54% of those involved in crashes were routinely tested in 2013 - this figure should be as near 100% as possible across the whole of the UK
  • Legal clarification of terms such as ‘random testing’ and ‘suspicion of drink driving’ are still needed to demythologise drink dive enforcement and give the police clarity for action

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