Monday, 25 May 2015

Lowering the drink driving limit

Drink driving arrests have fallen but some want to see a US style of enforcement
aimed at preventing persistent drink drivers from consuming alcohol

Currently, the drink driving limit is set at 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood.  There’s no way of saying how much alcohol consumption that equates to but the safest rule is not to drive after you’ve had a drink.

I encounter a lot of people who drink, believe they are under the drink driving limit and then drive home – or who get up in the morning thinking that the alcohol will have been eliminated from their system.  It’s hard to judge the point you’ll exceed the limit.

At the recent Police Federation conference, speakers called for a reduction in the drink driving limit for England and Wales to reflect the lower limit in Scotland where an offence is committed if you drive with 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood.

The main driver behind this change has been the increase in women drink drivers over recent years relative to offences committed by men.  Chief Inspector Victoria Martin told the Daily Telegraph:

“We’ve seen a steep decline in men drink driving over the years, with targeted advertising campaigns, which is great, but women don’t seem to be getting the same message. 
"It seems we have a worrying trend, with females still flouting the drink driving limit, sometimes scarily unaware, putting themselves and others in danger as well as adding to the drain on police resources.”
Drink driving convictions among women
remain stubbornly high

The call by the Police Federation was backed by Northumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Vera Baird, who is a former MP and former Solicitor-General for England and Wales under Gordon Brown.  In London, too there is a strong and persistent campaign to get tough on people accused of drink drivers with Mayor Boris Johnson (who is also effectively Police and Crime Commission for London) attending anti-drink driving campaign rallies as long ago as 2008 and the head of the Metropolitan Police calling for a US style system that prevents drink drivers getting drunk:
"One of the local district attorneys decided that instead of trying to stop drunk drivers driving, why not stop the driver getting drunk,
“If you got convicted of a drink driving offence, [then] twice a day you get tested for drinking and that had a massive impact on road safety, people did not go out and kill people on the roads.”
In Thames Valley, the police recently cracked down on drink drivers and arrested 273 people in the space of a single month.

Over the past few years, magistrates’ courts have become much tougher on drink drivers.  Not so long ago, a first time offender could almost be guaranteed the minimum 12-month disqualification if he pleaded guilty; however, the courts have adopted a much stricter approach.  This means that they are very reluctant to reduce disqualification periods for first time offenders without significant mitigation being put before them by the driver’s solicitor.

It is clear from both the rhetoric emanating from the Police Federation and Police and Crime Commissioners that there is an appetite for toughening up the law on drink drivers.  This is reflected in police crackdowns and the much stricter sentences handed down by sentencing courts.

England and Wales will follow Scotland in reducing the drink driving limit there is no doubt about that.  The only question is when it will happen.  While it is not a priority for this government, don’t be surprised if David Cameron sees political capital to be gained by showing he is tough on crime and ordering a crackdown on drink driving offences, including a reduction in the drink driving limit, by the end of this Parliament.

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