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December 18th 2015

Road Traffic Accidents

Should there be a zero tolerance policy towards drink driving?

Should there be a zero tolerance policy towards drink driving?

Throughout 2014, 683,631 breath tests were carried out on the road by police forces across England and Wales. Approximately 10% of those refused to be tested or failed with a positive test, whilst the highest number of test were found to be conducted throughout December.

Drink drivingThroughout 2014, 683,631 breath tests were carried out on the road by police forces across England and Wales. Approximately 10% of those refused to be tested or failed with a positive test, whilst the highest number of test were found to be conducted throughout December.

What are the current laws in the UK?

According to national statistics, alcohol-related road accidents accounted for approximately one in seven deaths on the road throughout the UK in 2014. Similarly, in 2013, 240 deaths were caused by drink driving, accounting for 14% of all road fatalities throughout England and Wales. Whilst steps have been taken by the government to decrease these figures, the current legal limit stands at 80mg, which, along with Malta, is the highest in the EU.

Research by the Royal Society for Public Health has suggested that a reduction to 50mg would encourage motorists to not take a significant risk and avoid consuming alcohol, whilst the four UK nations are currently looking to adopt new measures. This reduction could potentially save up to 170 lives a year – similar reductions across the EU have seen drink driving related deaths drop by 11.5% amongst those aged 18-25.

In December 2014, Scotland decreased its limit from 80mg to 50mg, and over the course of 12 months driving offences decreased by approximately 50%, which points towards a change in driving behaviour. Northern Ireland recently announced that it will also soon be introducing similar policies.

The RAC conducted a survey of 2,607 motorists, of which 10% were from Scotland. Approximately a third of those suggested that the alcohol limit should be reduced to the same level across the UK – 23% believed that there should be a total ban on motorists consuming alcohol before a journey.
A survey conducted by Hudgell Solicitors found that 81% of respondents believe the UK should implement a zero tolerance policy towards drink driving.

drink driving

How does the UK compare to the rest of Europe?

This trend has been bucked across Europe, with the Czech Republic, Romania, Hungary, Slovenia, and Slovakia all adopting an “absolute” ban.

In 1990, Sweden introduced a 20mg limit (down from 50mg), and found that drink related road accidents significantly decreased. A study into the change during 1997 highlighted that the 30mg reduction helped to decrease fatal accidents by 9.7%, whilst overall accidents were reduced by 7.5%. The study even found that the most serious drink-related offenders reduced repeating their crimes after the change took place.

Drink driving rules can vary greatly from country to country. In Germany, the limit is zero for motorists who have driven for less than two years. The punishment is then declared on the alcohol percentage reading. Motorists who are severely over the limit are required to undergo a psychological assessment.

The table below highlights the wide-ranging Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) limits across Europe. Whilst convictions abroad do not affect your UK licence, drink driving in Europe can lead to an immediate criminal conviction in some countries.

drink driving 2
Source: European Transport Safety Council

Further afield in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the UAE, a zero tolerance policy is in place due to religious reasons. Non-Muslims must carry a liquor licence to consume alcohol, even within the home. Whilst drink driving does happen in these territories, the punishment can vary in severity, depending on whether the individual holds a liquor licence or not.

Would an “absolute zero” policy work?

The majority of our survey suggested that a zero tolerance policy, with an “absolute zero” limit could lead to confusion. Would this mean that a motorist with the smallest concentration of alcohol is driving illegally? In a court of law, a number of grey areas could arise if the smallest trace of alcohol is found.

Road safety group Brake, and Alcohol Health Alliance UK, believe that a 20mg limit is adequate, whilst an absolute ban could cause more harm than good.

Sir Ian Gilmore from Alcohol Health Alliance UK, explained how zero tolerance could potentially lead a number of legal pitfalls:

“I think it’s fair to say that there are technical issues that need to be addressed with zero-tolerance. Obviously, when you get down to very low levels it’s difficult to be absolutely certain between a small level (of alcohol in the blood) and a very low level.”

Whilst promoting an absolute ban may sound like an ideal situation, it is perhaps a more sensible idea to promote the idea of a zero tolerance 20mg limit – which could put a driver over the limit after one drink. This would allow police forces to have flexibility and leeway in measuring BAC, and motorists would be even more likely to avoid drink driving over the festive period. Listed below are some key points of advice for motorists to follow throughout December:

  • Organise a designated driver
  • Do not accept a lift from a driver who has consumed alcohol
  • Organise a plan to get home safely
  • Never drive after consuming alcohol. There is no excuse!
  • Be careful the morning after consuming alcohol
  • If you are driving, stick to soft drinks or zero alcohol beers

Drinking and driving is always going to be a personal responsibility and it is up to the individual to make their own choices.

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