Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Friday, 18 June 2010

Please, no more reduction in the drink-drive limit

There are rumblings afoot that indicate the government may reduce the alcohol drink-drive limit from 80mg to 50mg per 100ml of blood. A review by Peter North has just reported and has recommended the change.

John Leech the Lib Dem MP (amongst various other politicians) has come out in favour of the move saying the following on his blog:

In the last Parliament I seemed to be fighting a losing battle with Labour ministers and Select Committee members seemingly happy with the status quo. In the end the review by Peter North was set up and I am delighted that it recommends that we reduce the drink drive limit from 80 to 50mg.
A reduction in the limit is estimated to save more than 150 lives each year on our roads and will bring us in line with most of Western Europe.

I am afraid in this instance I am very much in agreement with the former Labour ministers and Transport Select Committee members.

The drink-drive limit already means that realistically an average size man cannot drink more than 1.5 pints of typical beer without seriously risking being over the limit. A change to 50mg would edge us into the dangerous territory of many people risking being over the new limit having had just one pint of something like Stella Artois or Kronenbourg which are typical of the strength of lagers available in many pubs these days. The situation will be slightly different for a woman due to standard body sizes and the rate at which typically men and women absorb and process alcohol differing slightly but the same principles apply for both genders.

When considering policy changes, legislators have to take into account how the new law will work in practise. Setting the limit at a point where ordinary people drinking a pint (which is our standard measure for beer in this country) of typical strength lager could put you over the limit and hence risking automatically losing your driving license risks losing public support (by being seen as excessive) which is vital for measures like this. In fact the public could be forgiven for thinking that a measure like this is effectively saying that you are not allowed to drink any alcohol at all. I wonder how many people would support that.

As John points out, this measure could save 150 lives per year. I won't quibble with the figures but I will say that I bet reducing the limit to 25mg would save even more lives and reducing it to 0 would do so even further. So would fitting speed inhibitors on cars to reduce their speeds to a maximum of 25 miles per hour.

My point is that you have to balance out how many lives any measure is estimated to save by the negative consequences of such a move. I think moving to 50mg is not justified. Think about how much more resource and police time enforcing the new limit will take as it is likely that more people will be caught up in the new limit.

Now imagine that instead of focusing that resource on arresting and prosecuting people all those people who will be between the 50mg and 80mg points, they instead focused it more on tackling the hardcore of motorists who totally ignore the existing limits and regularly drive whilst drunk (and for whom the new limit will not make any difference). Has any commensurate study been done to work out how many lives this alternative approach would save?

I realise that arguing against a measure that has been determined will save lives is not an easy position to be in but we have to look at these things in a more rounded way. Otherwise the legislative ratchet will continue to tighten in all areas until we will by default in a few years find that many of the civil liberties that we took for granted a few years ago will eventually have gone.


Elrik Merlin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elrik Merlin said...

I think we should have carrots as well as sticks. I'd like to see a "Designated Driver" scheme. You're going out for the night with friends and one of you agrees to be the "Designated Driver" and drive the others while not having any alcohol themselves.

At the pub the Designated Driver is given an ID or badge for the evening (that they hand in when they leave, or is suitably signed and dated and automatically no longer valid) which they show at the bar to receive free soft drinks all evening.

Such a scheme might obviate other additional measures (such as reducing the blood alcohol limit), or if necessary it could be combined with them.

I'm in favour of personal liberties, as long as they don't infringe others' personal liberties. To me, being killed by an inebriated driver represents the ultimate loss of liberties, and we really shouldn't complain too loudly about blood alcohol limits being lowered: you simply should not drink and drive.

There are plenty of alternatives and that outlined above is just one of them.

Scared to say in case it's used against local PPC said...

You're missing out the other way that people will be caught with this - going to work on a Monday morning after a family barbecue (or whatever) at the weekend.

I used to work in a place that got regular community service workers in. Two of the ones that came to my section were caught out like that with the higher limit. How many more will this catch?

Presumably to show that this will save 150 lives a year the breath/blood tests of the people responsible for accidents involving a total of 150 fatalities are between the current level and the new level. That still doesn't prove the accidents wouldn't have happened without that 1/2 pint of lager difference of course.

After all that I never drink at all if I'm driving, but that wouldn't help a day or so after a party when you think you're clear.

Unknown said...

I like the designated driver idea but I have to disagree with you on this one, Mark.

Personally I don't drink at all if I'm going to be driving because I feel that even a small glass of wine could slow my reaction times to the point where it could be critical in an emergency.

I don't favour a drop below 50 mcg because you then get into the issue of potentially still being over the limit two mornings after a heavy night out but I think it's worth considering. The evidence does seem to support a reduction and I hope it happens.

Anonymous said...

"You're missing out the other way that people will be caught with this - going to work on a Monday morning after a family barbecue (or whatever) at the weekend."

Er - you mean that's a satisfactory excuse? Come on!!!!

If it takes around an hour or so to assimilate one unit, anyone over the existing drink drive limit as a result of drinking on the previous day must have been drinking well in excess of what seems sensible.

The trouble with lowering the existing limit is that it does nothing to address the issue of people driving while several times over the existing limit.