Stephen McIlkenny: Is new drink driving limit working?

Superintendent Colin McNeil of the Traffic Police, outside Fettes Headquarters with a breathalyser.
Superintendent Colin McNeil of the Traffic Police, outside Fettes Headquarters with a breathalyser.
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This week will mark a year since Scotland’s new drink driving limit came into effect, and the legislation has had a marked impact on people’s decision-making in regards to drinking and driving.

The legislation - which was enacted on December 5th 2014 - brought Scotland’s limit in-line with the vast majority of other European countries, with the drink driving limit dropping from 35 micrograms to 22 micrograms (mg) with some critics stating the new legislation was an infringement of civil liberties.

I think people now have a far greater understanding that if you have been drinking the night before you really can’t be driving the next morning

Ross Yuill, Solictor Advocate, Glasgow Law Practice

Recent figures have shown that the change has been effective. According to Police Scotland data obtained in the first three months of the year, there were 997 drink driving offences, compared to the same period in 2014 which saw 1,209 offences - a 17 per cent reduction

Ross Yuill, a criminal Solicitor Advocate with The Glasgow Law Practice and former President of the Glasgow Bar Association, stated that he has seen a significant decrease in the number of drink driving prosecutions since the introduction of the new limit.

In an interview with Unlock The Law, he said: “In my experience the change to the limit has had a marked impact on people’s decision-making around drinking and driving.

“I think the old mentality of having a couple of drinks and then driving home has been changed. It seems people now either have one drink or will say no to having a drink if they know they are driving.

“We have seen a decrease in prosecutions as a direct result.

“Next day drink driving offences have reduced dramatically. I think people now have a far greater understanding that if you have been drinking the night before you really can’t be driving the next morning.”

The solicitor advocate also indicated that the implementation of the new legislation had caused some problems for both judges and the police. Prior to the limit changing, drivers found to have less than 40 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath were not prosecuted due to an agreement between the Crown Agent and the Law Society of Scotland.

This was due to the machines used to measure the level of alcohol producing variable results, meaning that if you were breathalysed and returned a marginal reading of just over the permitted 35mg figure you would not be prosecuted.

When the drink driving limit was changed, this agreement was removed, effectively creating a grey area in Scottish criminal law.

Speaking about the issue caused by the changing of the drink driving law, Mr Yuill said: “I think judges are still coming to terms with exactly how to deal with sentencing individuals who contravene the new limit.

“If a person’s reading is now 60mg that is nearly three times the new limit of 22mg, but would have been less than double the old limit of 35mg.

“The police also are still coming to terms with things. It needs to be remembered that previously anybody with a reading of 40mg or less was not prosecuted.

“That was an agreed latitude for the police. That latitude is now gone and police officers, in theory, will arrest somebody with a reading of 22mg or over”.

“Albeit there is still procedure for those tests to be offered, I have seen a number of cases where the police appear unsure about when those tests should be offered and cases where they have not been offered at all.”

The solicitor advocate also confirmed that the lowest case he had seen that resulted in drink driving prosecution was 27 micrograms, a mere five points over the new limit.

Stephen Mcilkenny is a digital content strategist at Unlock The Law.