The Effects of Lowering the UK Legal Limit for Drink Driving
STARK D C, TSRI Limited, UK
The safety implications of drinking and driving have been well understood for some considerable time, and over the past two decades the Home Office and Department of Transport have campaigned strongly to publicise the risks involved and change peoples' pe
The safety implications of drinking and driving have been well understood for some considerable time, and over the past two decades the Home Office and Department of Transport have campaigned strongly to publicise the risks involved and change peoples' perceptions of the social acceptability of drink driving. Although the legal limit has remained the same - a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 80 mg/100ml - over this period, penalties for drink driving offences have been increased and the roadside breath testing of accident involved drivers has become a routine matter. This effort has been underpinned by a considerable body of research on the effects of drink drive legislation and its enforcement, as well as the psychological factors involved in drink driving and rehabilitation of offenders. The quantitative relations between alcohol and accident risk have also been studied in some depth. As a result, the occurrence of alcohol as a factor in road accidents, and especially fatal accidents, has declined dramatically. This is very gratifying, especially when one considers the long period over which little progress seemed to be made. But there is more that can still be achieved, so it is essential that we should have a good understanding of the current scale of the problem in the UK and the means at our disposal for reducing it.
The UK has already achieved considerable success in tackling drink driving, so the measures that might be appropriate in countries with high levels of drink driving may no longer be relevant. For example, considerable success with random breath testing - supported by other measures of course - has been reported in Australia, but it is important to realise that the average level of blood alcohol among drink drivers in the states that adopted this approach still almost twice as high as in the UK. A growing number of countries have lower drink drive limits of zero or 50 m#I00ml, though this does not necessarily mean that they have lower levels of drink driving than in the UK. On the other hand, while DOT publicity has emphasised the tragedy of the injuries and deaths of the innocent victims of drink driving accidents, other countries have moved ahead on a wider front in defining more closely the responsibility of drivers who kill and maim vulnerable road users. We might also consider the very rapid changes in car ownership and use that have taken place over the period and in particular the increase in the numbers of more socially responsible drivers, especially among the young or female drivers, who are prepared forego alcohol when they are driving.
It is timely then to take a closer, more quantitative look at the situation in the UK, with the aim of reviewing the information available on drink driving and its associated risk, seeing what changes have been taking place in the levels of drink drive enforcement and assess its effectiveness. Then we might be able to come to a better informed view as to the likely effects of changes in the legal limit.
Association for European Transport