RoSPA’s Drink Drive Campaign
Reducing the drink drive limit and giving Police the power to conduct random breath tests are a key campaign issue for RoSPA.
Despite 30 years of drink drive education and enforcement, around 100,000 people are still caught drink driving every year, and face a driving ban of at least 12 months, a large fine and possible imprisonment.
Provisional estimates for 2010 show that 250 people were killed and 1,230 people were seriously injured in drink drive accidents. So, almost 30 people are killed or seriously injured in drink drive accidents every week 1.
...reducing the drink drive limit could save over 60 lives a year.
The drink drive limit is 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. The limit was based on evidence that the likelihood of being involved in a road accident and of injuries occurring, rises sharply at and above that level. However, the evidence also showed that most drivers are impaired, and their accident risk increases, at blood alcohol levels below this limit. Drivers who have between 50 and 80 mg per 100ml of blood are 2 to 2 ½ times more likely to crash and 6 times more likely to be in a fatal crash 2.
In 2000, the Government estimated that reducing the limit to 50mg could save 50 lives, and prevent 250 serious injuries and 1,200 slight injuries each year 3. A later examination of the figures suggested that reducing the legal limit could save 65 lives and prevent 230 serious injuries each year 4.
Research by the Centre for Public Health Excellence 5 into the likely effects of lowering the drink drive limit indicated that the number of lives saved by a lower limit could be up to 168 lives a year. This estimate did not include Scotland, which accounts for about 7% of drink drive-related casualties in Great Britain, so the overall number of lives saved would be even greater.
An International review 6 of the impact of introducing or lowering limits found that they resulted in fewer drink drive accidents, deaths and injuries.
Based on this evidence, the North Report into Drink and Drug Driving Laws 7 recommended that the limit be lowered to 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml blood.
Unfortunately, in 2011 the British Government decided not to lower the limit as they concluded that improving enforcement is likely to have more impact on the most dangerous drink-drivers, than lowering drink drive limit, which they did not believe would be cost-effective 8.
...alcohol drastically reduces the ability to drive safely.
Alcohol makes drivers over-confident and more likely to take risks. It slows their reactions, increases stopping distances, impairs judgement of speed and distance and affects vision.
Alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream very quickly, but it takes about an hour for 1 unit to be removed by a healthy liver. Drinkers cannot be sure how much alcohol they are consuming because the alcoholic strength of drinks varies enormously, as does the size of measures. It is impossible to accurately calculate how much alcohol is in your body, and whether you are above or below the drink drive limit. Many drink drivers are caught the morning after they have been drinking. As it takes several hours for alcohol to disappear from the body, someone who was drinking late the previous evening could still be over the limit the next morning.
...laws are only effective if they are seen to be enforced.
The number of breath tests has varied over recent years, from over 700,000 in 2000 to around 535,000 in 2003, and back up to over 800,000 breath tests in 2009 1. The level of breath testing also varies significantly across the country. An increase in breath testing and more consistency across the country would improve the effectiveness of drink drive laws.
... it is time for strong, positive action to finally eradicate the stubborn remnants of drinking and driving.
RoSPA also believes that the police should have wider powers to breath test drivers, including testing drivers at locations where their intelligence suggests some will have been drinking, and the power to conduct random breath tests. While the police can already stop any driver for any reason, they can only require a breath test if they suspect that s/he has consumed alcohol, or committed a traffic offence or been involved in an accident. Allowing the police to administer a breath test without needing any other reason would increase drivers' perception of the risk of being caught without necessarily placing additional demands upon police resources.
RoSPA believes that a package of drink drive measures should be introduced, including:
- Lowering the maximum blood alcohol limit from 80mg/100ml to 50mg/100ml
- Evidential roadside breath testing
- Wider powers for the police to breath test drivers to enable targeted, evidence led, and high profile random breath testing to increase drivers' perception of the risk of being caught without necessarily placing additional demands upon police resources.
- Wider user of drink drive rehabilitation courses
- Encouragement for employers to set zero limits for staff who drive for work
- Improved public education, in particular to raise awareness of how easy it is to be above the limit, how difficult it is to know exactly how many units of alcohol have been consumed (because alcoholic strength and glass sizes vary so much) and that the only safe limit for driving is zero
Where can I find out more about drinking and driving:
- "Reported Road Casualties Great Britain 2010, Department for Transport, 2011
- "Combating Drink Driving: Next Steps: A Consultation Paper", DETR, 1998
- "Tomorrow’s Roads: Safer for Everyone", DETR, 2000
- "Reducing the BAC level to 50 mg – What Can We Expect to Gain", R Allsopp, PACTS Research Briefing, 2005
- "Review of effectiveness of laws limiting blood alcohol concentration levels to reduce alcohol-related road injuries and deaths", Centre for Public Health Excellence NICE, 2010
- "The Effects of Introducing or Lowering Legal per se Blood Alcohol Limits for Driving: An International Review", Mann et al, Accident Analysis & Prevention, 2001; 33(5)
- "Report of the Review of Drink and Drug Driving Law", Sir Peter North QC, June 2010M
- "The Government's Response to the Reports by Sir Peter North CBE QC and the Transport Select Committee on Drink and Drug Driving", DfT, March 2011
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