Lowering the drink drive limit

Policy issued on 08/03/16 |

The debate on the maximum permitted blood alcohol limit for drivers has been reignited following the Scottish Government's decision to lower the limit north of the border and by the recent flat lining in drink related deaths.

Surveys of the public also show a consistently high degree of support for a lower limit.

The UK legal limit was set in 1967 at a level where impairment was undeniable - 80 milligrams of alcohol for 100 millilitres of blood (0.8). Recent research suggests that impairment begins at 0.5 and lowering the limit could save at least 40 lives a year on Britain’s roads. We are now out of step with the rest of Europe where most countries have adopted the lower limit of 0.5. 220 people were killed in drink drive accidents in 2015  and the total number of collisions and accidents where at least one driver was over the alcohol limit rose by 2% to 5,740.  Long term alcohol related incidents have been flat lining for the last eight years  - 13%, or around one in seven, of all fatal crashes involved alcohol in 2018.

Research shows that drink driving is most common amongst young drivers and the middle aged and police still catch thousands of drivers over the limit across the UK every year. Most were stopped by routine patrols rather than as the result of a crash.

IAM RoadSmart acknowledges that a lower limit could risk diverting police resources from catching the most dangerous offenders who pay little regard to any limit, but it would also send a very powerful signal on drinking and driving. For the moment, the government is committed to keeping the current legal limit of 0.8 but this approach can only work if there is vigorous and focused enforcement on drink driving. Given the recent cuts in police budgets and the lack of improvement in drink related deaths it is clear the battle has been not yet been won and the ‘status quo’ is not good enough.

IAM RoadSmart recommendations

  • IAM RoadSmart believes that a new consultation is needed now to reflect the growing support among the general public and a range of influential organisations, including the police, for a lower limit in England and Wales
  • Consistent high profile enforcement effort is needed to ensure that we return to a downward trend in alcohol related driving deaths
  • Education campaigns targeting young drivers are needed to reinforce the anti drink drive message
  • Only half of those involved in crashes are routinely tested - this figure should be as near 100% as possible across the whole of the UK
  • Legal clarification of terms such as ‘random testing’ and ‘suspicion of drink driving’ are still needed to demythologise drink dive enforcement and give the police clarity for action
  • IAM RoadSmart has welcomed the removal of the blood test option in some circumstances but the government must bring forward proposals to allow evidential breath testing at the roadside to save time and free up police resources
  • IAM RoadSmart support an 'opt out' approach to drink drive rehabilitation courses for all drink drive offenders