Drink Driving Accidents – Law Reform

Accidents causing injury and fatalities targeted.  Is the current limit too high and could a lower limit reduce car accidents?


Could Scotland pave the way for lower drink-driving limits in the UK?

Scotland is currently carrying out a consultation to decide whether to lower the legal drink-driving limit in the country – but could such a move prompt the rest of the UK to follow suit?

According to figures published by the Scottish government for 2010, more than 500 road accidents were caused by drink driving, resulting in 750 casualties following crashes involving a drink driver. These statistics are broadly in line with the rest of the UK, so why do Scottish MPs want to make a change?

What is being proposed?

The plans put forward for consultation by the Scottish parliament (with the consultation period running until the end of November) have recommended reducing the current drink-driving limit of 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood to 50 mg.

Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill has argued that this will bring the country in line with other European nations – including France, Germany, Denmark and Spain – where the limit has been lower for some time. In some countries on the continent – namely Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia – there is a zero-tolerance approach to drink driving.

In addition to proposing a reduction in the legal blood-alcohol level for drivers, Mr MacAskill has also requested further devolved powers from Westminster relating to random drink-driving tests and setting penalties for being caught driving while over the limit.

A vote on the proposals earlier in November saw 100 members of the Scottish parliament (MSPs) in favour of the plans to cut the drink-driving limit, with just 12 against.

Why is it necessary?

Although the number of casualties caused by drink-driving in Scotland dropped by 35 per cent in the ten years from 2000 to 2010, politicians in the county still believe more needs to be done to reduce these figures further.

Reporting on a speech Mr MacAskill gave to parliament earlier this month, the BBC quoted the MSP as saying: “The question has to be asked whether the current drink-drive limit is providing a sufficiently clear message that drinking and driving is unacceptable – we believe the current limit has had its day.”

There is evidence to suggest that lowering the legal blood-alcohol limit from 80 mg/100 ml to 50 mg/100 ml does save lives. In France, where this reduction was introduced in 1995, fatalities as a result of drink driving dropped by four per cent, while in Belgium this figure was as high as ten per cent, according to research conducted by the Institute of Alcohol Studies.

A Report of the Review of Drink and Drug Driving Law in the UK carried out by Sir Peter North CBE QC in 2010 put forward some compelling arguments for lowering the limit to 50 mg/100 ml. The study stated that drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of between 50 mg/100 ml and 80 mg/100 ml were six times more likely to die in a car crash than those who had consumed no alcohol, while the risk to those with a BAC between 20 mg/100 ml and 50 mg/100 ml was three times greater than those who had not drunk.

The review asserted that a “significant number of lives” could be saved in the UK if the country adopted a lower drink-driving limit. It also stressed that the procedures for dealing with drink-driving offences need to be speeded up and recommended that the option for the offender to have a urine or blood test be removed, given that the current testing equipment is much more advanced and accurate than when this law was initially introduced.

Of course, if the number of fatalities and casualties caused by drink driving falls in Scotland, so too will the number of car accident compensation claims made by victims and their families who have suffered at the hands of a drink driver.

Will things change?

There appears to be widespread support for the proposals among MSPs in Scotland, given the comprehensive approval the plans received in parliament recently. When the consultation period ends on November 29th, there will be a clearer picture about how the government north of the border will proceed.

General manager at road safety charity Brake Sarah Fatica told the Daily Record that her organisation backs the measures, describing it as a “step in the right direction”. She added that Brake wants to see “a strong message from our governments in Scotland and Westminster to say that not a drop [of alcohol] is acceptable if you are behind the wheel”.

Although the government in Westminster has indicated it has no plans to reduce the drink-driving limit in the rest of the UK, there is the possibility that it could follow suit should the Scottish measures be adopted and prove to be successful.

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Drink Driving Accidents – Law Reform
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