December and January is the traditional time for the re-launching of drink drive
campaigns by the police. Next year there is the added prospect of a change in drink
drive laws, possibly as early as 2010, bringing a reduction in the maximum permitted
alcohol level when driving.
The current drink drive limits (80 in blood, 35 in breath) have been in place for
some considerable time. There have been moves to lower these levels to bring them
in line with that in many EU countries (50 in blood). Now the Government is finally
giving further serious consideration to this and indeed part of this was a consultation
on road safety which closed in February 2009 - this has been widely publicised in
the press recently.
The situation appears to be quite a simple choice between (a) keeping permitted levels
as they are (b) reducing them to the "European" level i.e. those in many European
countries or (c) allowing no alcohol in the body when driving.
Those opposing a reduction in the existing permitted levels suggest there is no need
for a change because there is no evidence that driving with a new reduced limit would
in fact tackle the category of drink-driving that is dangerous and linked to significant
casualty numbers. The argument is that if the real risk is in relation to alcohol
at higher levels (which the current law addresses) then why should the existing level
If a nil tolerance were to be introduced, then there would of course be some difficulties
- would this really mean a zero tolerance in the sense that any alcohol, no matter
how small in the body would give rise to an offence (akin to drugs testing on athletes)?
It is easy to aspire to a law with a zero-tolerance but how could this be fairly
implemented and policed? What about medication or natural alcohol? No doubt a new
industry would be created whereby drivers would purchase self testing kits in large
numbers generating a whole new industry and there would be significant legal and
technical challenges in court cases in this area.
The counter argument to a nil tolerance level, others argue, is that this should
not be introduced where there is no evidence that small levels of alcohol impair
driving or at least impair significantly enough as a contributing factor in accidents
to warrant a law change - why should the presence of small or negligible amounts
constitute a criminal offence?
There is a debate about the introduction a two-tier system i.e. mandatory driving
disqualification at the current level (currently minimum mandatory 12 month driving
ban) but penalty points or discretionary disqualification below this e.g. between
50 and 80 in blood i.e. between the current 'European' and UK levels. (the existing
offence of being 'drunk in charge' attracts 10 penalty points if no driving ban is
imposed). This might be a compromise appeasing all factions in this debate to some
extent. It would certainly appear to be the case that if the current permitted alcohol
levels were lowered it would be politically very difficult to restore them back to
higher levels later.
We will see what happens - whatever the outcome no faction is likely to be happy
with the ultimate outcome of the review.
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