Cut to the drink-drive limit called for in England

Drink-drive campaigns

Annual Government drink-drive campaigns are hard-hitting but are they enough? (Picture © DfT Think!)

On the 50th anniversary of the Government’s drink-drive campaign, a drop in the blood-alcohol limit has been proposed by the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS). 

Scotland has already voted to cut its drink-drive limit from 80 micrograms (mg) of alcohol for every 100 millilitres (ml) of blood to 50mg per 100ml. Now PACTS wants the rest of the United Kingdom to follow suit. As well as bringing England, Wales and Northern Ireland in line with Scotland it will also align the UK with the majority of Europe. Countries such as Greece, Sweden, Poland and Norway have even stricter drink-drive limits.

Department for Transport research shows that from being something many people did unquestioningly, drink driving has become socially unacceptable with 88 per cent of respondents saying they would think badly of someone who drinks and drives. Almost half claimed they would prefer to tell their partner they watch pornography than confess to drink driving.

Even so, during a targeted drink drive campaign that ran during the summer of 2014, one in 15 of the drivers breathalysed were over the limit. In research conducted by insurer Direct Line, 17 per cent of female drivers thought they might have driven while over the limit in the past year. And nearly half of women drivers admitted they didn’t know how much wine or beer can be legally consumed before driving.

This prompted road safety charity Brake to claim there was still a problem, something that was reinforced by the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS). Director of policy for the IAS, Katherine Brown said: “We think people are getting complacent over this and of course glasses of wine are getting bigger and beer is getting stronger. The shock tactics of government advertising campaigns can be very effective but any kind of awareness campaign has to be backed up with the threat of being caught. The perception that there are fewer police on the street, whether true or not, is going to encourage people to take risks.”

The IAS agrees with PACTS on reducing the legal limit. Its research shows that drivers with a blood-alcohol content of 20-50mg/100ml of blood have a three times greater risk of dying in a vehicle crash than drivers who haven’t drunk anything. This is because even a small amount of alcohol impairs people’s reaction times and judgement. It is doubled to a six times greater risk of death with blood-alcohol of 50-80mg/100ml. And it rockets to 11 times when blood-alcohol content is 80-100mg/100ml of blood.

The Government’s drink-drive campaigns have been credited with a steady decline in the number of related casualties. The first year figures are available from is 1979 when there were 1640 dead and 8300 seriously injured. The most recent figures from 2012 show 230 dead and 1200 seriously injured. Although one in eight road deaths are currently the result of drink drivers, that figure has been reduced from one in four.

So without the Government campaigns, drink driving casualties would be significantly higher. Question is: are we at a point where we need to take more drastic action to reduce the numbers further?

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