Time to cut drink-drive limit in England and Wales?
Around 25 lives could have been saved across Great Britain this year, if England and Wales had followed the example of Scotland and cut the drink-drive limit.
A reduction from the current 80mg to 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood could also have prevented a further 95 people a year being seriously injured.
The law in Scotland was changed in December 2014 so that the drink-drive limit fell from 80mg alcohol/100ml blood to 50mg.
The estimates come from research by Professor Richard Allsop in his report Saving Lives by Lowering the Legal-Drink-Drive Limit. The work was jointly commissioned by the RAC Foundation and PACTS.
Professor Allsop studied road casualty data from 2010 to 2013 under various assumptions. The data for Great Britain records that over this period the number of people killed in a collision involving a driver (or rider) over the drink-drive limit (or who refused a breath test) remained constant at about 240 per year, with an average of 1,200 people seriously injured.
However for every four deaths in this type of collision Professor Allsop estimates there was another death that was the result of a collision where someone had been drinking but was within the limit.
Professor Allsop believes lowering the limit from 80mg alcohol to 50mg could result in casualty reductions as people in the following three categories moderate their drinking:
1) those with BACs below 50 – and thus already within a new limit – who want to remain confident of keeping within it;
2) those with BACs currently between 50 and 80 who wish to comply with a new limit;
3) those with BACs somewhat above the existing limit – say up to 110mg/100ml – but who aim to comply with the existing limit and would intend to comply with a new limit.
The limit we have today was introduced almost 50 years ago in 1967.
But now there is a widespread understanding that the risk of involvement in a collision is increased by even moderate drinking, and impairment increases at a faster rate than originally thought.
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said:
“Despite rapid traffic growth the number of people killed in drink-drive accidents has fallen dramatically over time, down some 85% since 1979. This is a much faster rate of decline than for road deaths overall. We must have been doing something right.
“But the weight of evidence is that we could do more.
“It would be a poor argument to suggest we should cut the drink-drive limit just because everyone else has done it. But this report makes the case on robust data and sound analysis.
“Policy in this area hasn’t moved for half a century but in the face of this evidence it increasingly falls on opponents of a limit reduction to defend the status quo, rather than asking those who support a cut to keep making their case.”
David Davies, executive director of PACTS, said:
“A driver with 80mg blood alcohol concentration is 12 times more likely to be killed in a collision than a driver with a blood alcohol concentration of zero – but may still be within the law in England and Wales. The last independent inquiry into the drink-drive limit, conducted by Sir Peter North, recommended a reduction to 50mg.
“Since that time – 2010 – road casualties, including drink-related casualties, have decreased very little, if at all. There is a good case for allowing Parliament to examine the issue again to see if further progress can be made.”
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Notes to editors:
The RAC Foundation is a transport policy and research organisation that explores the economic, mobility, safety and environmental issues relating to roads and their users. The Foundation publishes independent and authoritative research with which it promotes informed debate and advocates policy in the interest of the responsible motorist. The RAC Foundation is a registered charity, number 1002705.
The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) is an All-Party Parliamentary Group and a registered charity, number 1068607. Its charitable objective is “To protect human life through the promotion of transport safety for the public benefit”. Its aim is to advise and inform members of the House of Commons and of the House of Lords on air, rail and road safety issues. It brings together safety professionals and legislators to identify research-based solutions to transport safety problems having regard to cost, effectiveness, achievability and acceptability. In recent years it has paid increasing attention to the links between transport safety, sustainability and public health.
Professor Richard Allsop has extensive experience of research, training and advisory work on road safety, traffic management and other aspects of transport policy. He has a first in Mathematics from Cambridge, and a PhD and DSc from University College London, where he is Emeritus Professor of Transport Studies, having been Professor since 1976 and Director between then and 1997 of what is now the Centre for Transport Studies.
He has a longstanding involvement in road safety research and policy, including being a Special Adviser to PACTS (the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety). He is a Board Member of the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) and advises its European road safety performance index programme PIN. He has also provided inputs to road safety policy in Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand and Poland.
The full report is available to download under embargo: