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Calling for drink drive limit to be brought up to date

A new government funded report has made the call – once again – for our drink driving limit to be cut.

The study, led by the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (Pacts), has said large numbers of drivers no longer see the current limit as a serious deterrent, with many believing they were less likely to be caught.

It adds that progress in tackling this major killer has ground to a halt over the last decade. Nationally, the number of people given roadside breath tests dropped by 63% in the 10 years leading to 2019. It even warns the pandemic may have made the problem worse – with drinking at home, mental health pressures and traffic speeds all having increased.

car keys next to a glass of whisky

The report, funded by the Department for Transport, said that major reforms were needed, including cutting the limit in England and Wales – even to as much as zero for certain groups including those who have just passed their test, young motorists and people who drive for a living.

I welcome this report, which echoes calls I have been making throughout my time as Dorset’s Police and Crime Commissioner.

The drink driving limit in England and Wales remains at 80 milligrammes (mg) of alcohol per 100 millilitres (ml) of blood – the same as when drink driving laws were introduced in the 1960s.

Drink driving is one of the biggest causes of road deaths, with 240 killed each year in incidents where a driver was over the limit.

UK is out of step

But sadly, we remain out of step with the rest of Europe.

Scotland reduced its threshold in 2014 to 50mg per 100mg. Northern Ireland has introduced legislation to follow this but hasn’t introduced it yet. Malta, previously the only other country in Europe to have a limit as generous as ours, introduced tougher new measures in 2018.

I’ve consistently argued that the current law creates confusion. Drivers have to guess how much alcohol is acceptable and whether that extra half pint or small glass of wine will push them over the limit. Nobody can conclusively say how much is too much as alcohol effects people differently.

A lower limit, or even a zero limit like that which exists in some European countries, would get rid of this confusion and send out an unambiguous signal that motorists should not drink any alcohol before getting behind the wheel.

No rationale for current limit

There is no justification or clear rationale for our limits to remain so high. It’s time that we stop playing Russian roulette with people’s lives. A lower alcohol limit, where one drink could cost you your licence, would more effectively deter motorists from drinking at all before getting behind the wheel.

This isn’t a particularly controversial opinion.

When I ran a survey into this issue a few years ago, 72% of respondents – mainly motorists from Dorset – agreed that the drink driving limit in England and Wales should be lowered. The British Social Attitudes survey has found even higher levels of support for this.

Over the years, I’ve lobbied the Government to make the case for bringing our drink driving laws into the 21st century, writing to ministers and engaging with the Transport Select Committee.

Other organisations including the Local Government Association, which represents councils across England and Wales, have also campaigned.

But so far, our calls have been ignored.

Our drink driving laws must be improved – it’s a question of when, not if. I hope this latest report pushes the issue back onto the agenda and makes sure it happens sooner rather than later.



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