Xmas Drink-Drive Campaign Hides Real Problem – The Law

Crashed car after collisionMost laws are designed to prevent us doing harm to one another – so why is the UK’s drink-driving law deliberately designed to let us expose each other to unnecessary risk?

Christmas is approaching, and with it the government’s annual ‘don’t drink and drive’ campaign. In a year where drink-driving has risen, (the government has cut drink-drive campaign funding by 85% since coming to power), this year’s campaign seems especially limp.

I haven’t seen any anti-drink drive advertising anywhere this year; not on television, billboards, bus advertising or anywhere else. It’s almost as if it doesn’t exist, except for a half-hearted press release that came my way from the Department of Transport, boasting that designated drivers can get a BOGOF offer on Coca-Cola at participating pubs from 9th December 2011.

Make no mistake – I wholeheartedly support the Think! campaign and back Brake’s ‘Not a Drop, Not A Drag’ zero tolerance approach to drink and drug driving. And therein lies the problem.

You Can Drink and Drive Legally in the UK

The UK has the highest drink-drive limit in the western world. Our government thinks that drinking and driving is acceptable. Why else did they ignore expert recommendations and decide not to lower the UK’s drink-drive limit earlier in March 2011?

The lack of aggressive campaigning this Christmas is only really a side issue – we are all ignoring the elephant in the room. In the UK, you can already drink enough to seriously affect your driving while staying completely within the law.

Trust me, I’ve spent a weekend with a borrowed police breathalyser and I was shocked at how much I could drink before I hit the limit.

The UK Limit Is Dangerously High – Why?

The UK’s 80mg/100ml blood alcohol limit is higher than almost every other country in the world. In Europe, only Malta has a limit this high. Most countries set their limit at 50mg and an increasing number have a 20mg limit – effectively zero tolerance.

Research shows* that the risk of involvement in a fatal accident is five times higher for drivers with a blood alcohol level of 50mg than for drivers who have not had a drink. That’s a five-fold increase – while still staying well below the UK limit.

The risk gets much worse beyond 50mg. At 110mg, the risk of being involved in a fatal accident is 34 times higher than it is for a sober driver**. This near-exponential increase above 50 is the reason that the EU recommendation is 50mg.

Indeed, the best data available** on drink-drive deaths suggests that 65 lives per year could be saved, simply by lowering the UK’s limit from 80 to 50 (in line with most of Europe).

I have no idea why our government is determined not to lower the drink-drive limit, but I suspect it is because moderate drink-driving is still a regular behaviour for a great many of the voters who elected them. Lowering the limit would make many legal drink-drivers into criminals, or would force them to change their behaviour. Either way, the decision would be unpopular.

I believe the alcohol limit for drivers should be zero (20mg/100ml). What do you think?

* Maycock TRL Report 232 1997

** See here: http://www.pacts.org.uk/docs/pdf-bank/lowerlimit.pdf

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