Despite decades of campaigning to prevent people taking the wheel after drinking too much alcohol, each year more than 70,000 people are caught drink driving in the UK.
The latest government figures show around 230 people died in drink-drive accidents on UK roads in 2016, up from 200 the previous year. This represents about one in eight (13%) of all deaths in reported road accidents in 2016.
Legally there are clearly defined alcohol limits, but these vary even within the UK. In Scotland the limit is 50mg of alcohol per 100ml blood. At 80mg/100ml of blood, the limit in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is higher than in Scotland and most of Europe. There are plans to lower the limit in Northern Ireland, but not in England or Wales.
The limits do not translate into a number of drinks. Alcohol affects people differently. Even small quantities may slow your reactions and impair your judgment. Drivers may feel a false sense of confidence and take inappropriate risks.
Should the limit in England and Wales be reduced?
There has been strong support among road safety campaign groups for the drink driving limit to be cut.
They argue that even if you drink below the legal limits you may still be putting yourself and others at risk. As Nick Lloyd, road safety manager at safety charity RoSPA, explains, “drivers with a blood alcohol level of between 50mg and 80 mg are 2 – 2.5 times more likely to be involved in an accident than drivers with no alcohol, and up to six times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash”.
Prof Richard Allsop, a long-standing adviser to Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS), told the BBC in September: “There are quite a lot of collisions happening where no-one has been driving over the limit but, nevertheless, they are having collisions that they would not have had if they not been drinking - and the best estimate that we can make of the hidden drink drive deaths is about another 60.”
Another, the Institute of Alcohol Studies, suggests lowering the limit would be a cost-effective way of relieving pressure on overstretched police budgets.
What’s more, there appears to be broad public support for reducing the limit. A survey published by Public Health England in 2016 found that over three quarters of people (77%) are in favour of drink driving laws being changed to reduce the allowed alcohol limit.
PACTS believes it’s important to track the percentage of UK drivers who are fully sober. It has proposed this measure would be among key indicators used to improve road safety in the UK, as part of a road safety system to focus on prevention of death and serious injury rather than preventing all crashes.
Or should the limit remain where it is?
England and Wales’ current limit was set in 1967 and has never been amended.
In 2011 the government decided not to lower the limit as it concluded that improving enforcement would likely have more impact on the most dangerous drink-drivers, rather than lowering the drink drive limit, which it did not believe would be cost-effective.
The pressure continues on the government. Nick from RoSPA says: “Any amount of alcohol adversely affects a driver’s reactions, and ability to recognise and react to hazards.
“Therefore, RoSPA advice is don’t drink and drive whatever the legal limit.”