Tougher new drink drive laws are backed by police in Scotland
THE prospect of Scotland’s drink-drive limit being cut has come closer after senior police officers said they would back a reduction, The Scotsman can reveal.
The Association of Scottish Police Superintendents (Asps) made its position clear on the eve of the launch today of a Scottish Government consultation on the issue. The association warns that, despite years of campaigns and crackdowns, drink-driving is still seen as acceptable in some parts of Scotland.
It is understood the other two police bodies – the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (Acpos) and the Scottish Police Federation – are also likely to support a reduction.
Police will be a key voice in the Scottish Government consultation, not least because they will have to cope with the increased workload that a reduced limit would potentially mean.
Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill has previously indicated he would support cutting the legal limit from 80mg to 50mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood.
Asps wants no-one to drink and drive but will stop short of calling for zero tolerance, for fear that motorists on medication which includes a trace of alcohol could be prosecuted.
The association has consulted members and will present a formal response to the Scottish Government in the coming weeks. But Chief Superintendent David O’Connor, president of Asps, said: “Our position is that there should be a reduction in the alcohol level, but what that level should be we’re not in a position to say at present. There has got to be a full debate between health, education, police and academics.”
Scottish Government figures showed total convictions had fallen by a third from 8,071 to 5,348 over the four years to March last year. However, there was an increase in offenders caught in a four-week campaign last Christmas, when numbers went up by 52 to 478, although this followed the big freeze of the previous winter.
Mr O’Connor believes Scotland has a problem that needs to be tackled. “I believe drink- driving is still seen as socially acceptable in some quarters,” he said.
“We have got to get the message out to everyone: the risk of losing their licence, losing their livelihood, losing their lives and causing other people to lose their lives is too great.”
He added that confusion surrounded the current limits. “I think people will look at current levels and suggest they can have a glass and a half of wine or a couple of pints of lager.
“There’s an element of confusion and a lot of people are running the risk. By lowering the alcohol level, it should become clearer to people.”
The power to set drink-drive limits was passed to Holyrood as part of the Scotland Bill this year. Ministers have said setting a new limit is “a priority”.
Acpos would not be drawn on its response to the consultation, but is understood to welcome a reduction in the limit.
Brian Doherty, chairman of the Scottish Police Federation, said he would discuss the issue with members soon, but expects to back a reduction.
The limit in England and Wales will remain at 80mg per 100ml of blood, so if it is cut in Scotland, there will be a difference across the Border. But that would replicate the situation in Ireland, where the Republic has a 20mg limit for learner, newly qualified and professional drivers, and 50mg per 100ml of blood for other motorists, against the 80mg limit in Northern Ireland.
The Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) has warned that lowering the limit in Scotland could weaken the focus on the most dangerous drink-drivers. It backs a reduction, but with reservations.
Neil Greig, IAM’s Scotland-based policy and research director, said: “It’s a very popular measure. All surveys, including ones we’ve done, say people want to see it reduced. But the reality is, while people think drink-driving is the biggest killer on our roads, it is only related to one in seven deaths.”
He added: “Our main concern is it might dilute police efforts in cracking down on people who cause deaths by being two to three times the limit. There might be less enforcement for people causing the biggest problems, if they are catching people at the lower levels.”
However, roads charity Brake has urged the Scottish Government to introduce a zero- tolerance policy. Spokeswoman Ellie Pearson said: “Drink-drive deaths and serious injuries cause terrible suffering and anguish, and are entirely preventable.
“Research clearly shows that even very small amounts of alcohol in a driver’s system impair driving ability, which is why we need to see a zero-tolerance approach.
“Brake is calling on UK governments to take decisive action against this major killer by lowering the drink-drive limit, currently one of the highest in Europe, to a zero-tolerance level of 20mg/100ml blood.”
The Scottish Government has said drink-driving is “dangerous and deplorable” and backs a reduction. A spokesman said it “has long called for a reduction in the drink-driving limit to 50mg, which would bring Scotland into line with much of the rest of Europe”.
The spokesman added: “The majority of Scots recognise that drink-driving is dangerous and deplorable, but there are still too many people dying every year on our roads.”
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