MINISTERS yesterday announced legislation to lower the drink-drive limit in Scotland from Friday, 5 December – three weeks before Christmas.
The move confirms the Scottish Government’s plans to have the new limit in force for the festive season after a Holyrood committee discussed the date two weeks ago.
The blood-alcohol limit would be reduced from 80mg in every 100ml of blood to 50mg. That means a single, standard glass of wine or pint of beer could put drivers over the limit.
If approved by the Scottish Parliament, the change would see the limit brought into line with most of Europe, but the level south of the Border will remain unchanged.
The move has been delayed while ministers await “type approval” from the Home Office for breath-testing equipment to be used.
MSPs voted to approve the reduction by 100-12 two years ago.
Justice secretary Kenny Mac-Askill said yesterday the new limit would send a “clear message” to drivers who ignore the warnings that there is never an excuse to drink and drive.
He said: “Drink-driving shatters families and communities and we must take action to reduce the risk on our roads.
“The latest estimates show that approximately one in ten deaths on Scottish roads involve drivers who are over the legal limit and research shows that even just one alcoholic drink before driving can make you three times as likely to be involved in a fatal car crash. As a result, 20 families every year have to cope with the loss of a loved one and around 760 people are treated for injuries caused by someone who thought it was acceptable to drink alcohol and get behind the wheel and drive. We cannot let this continue.”
The Scottish Government previously announced the intention to reduce the limit following a consultation which found almost three-quarters of those who responded believed it should be lowered.
The new limit would be introduced under the Road Traffic Act 2014, which have been laid in draft at Holyrood. The delegated powers and law reform committee discussed this and its introduction date on 7 October.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents welcomed the announcement and called for the rest of the UK to follow suit. Sandy Allan, its road safety manager in Scotland, said: “There is a considerable body of research which shows that reducing drink-drive limits is effective in reducing drink-drive deaths and injuries.
“We would like to see the rest of the UK follow Scotland’s example.”
However, the Conservatives criticised the move, saying it risks “creating criminals” out of people who are “hardworking, law-abiding citizens”.
Transport spokesman Alex Johnstone said: “The view of many people is we should focus resources on people who are three, four or even five times the legal limit.
“But with this move, the risk is police will stop chasing maniacs on a Saturday night who are inebriated behind the wheel, and instead target young mothers in supermarket car parks on Sunday mornings.
“It would be a huge mistake for police to switch their focus to those who are between the new limit and the existing limit.
“But, of course, they will be the easy ones to target because they’ll pay their fines.
“This reduction risks creating criminals of people who are perfectly law-abiding, hardworking individuals, while reducing the spotlight on those who are truly dangerous drivers.”
The last drink-driving campaign this summer saw a significant cut in drivers caught compared to a year ago.
Police Scotland said 169 motorists had been over the limit or impaired by drugs over the two-week crackdown in June, which was 40 per cent fewer than the 280 caught in 2013.
Philip Gomm: Scots ministers grasped the challenge that those south of the Border studiously ignored
FIRST the good news. Death and serious injury on Scottish roads has fallen sharply over recent years.
Now the bad. Based on a five-year average, 116 people are still killed or badly hurt annually because of drunk drivers.
There is reason to believe a lower drink-drive limit would make a significant dent in this total. That’s not us saying so, but Sir Peter North who, at the behest of the Westminister government, carried out an exhaustive review of the subject back in 2010.
He noted that the chances of having an accident increases exponentially the more you drink; that is, significantly faster than the rate at which alcohol is consumed.
In his recommendations, Sir Peter called for a reduction in the legal blood alcohol limit, something ministers in London ignored but those in Edinburgh noted and are acting on.
Importantly this puts Holyrood in line with public opinion. And that will help when it comes to enforcement. Most laws are self-enforcing and it helps if most people understand and support them.
Which is not to say this change does not need proper policing. People must believe they are likely to be caught if they transgress. This should not be seen as over zealousness but a sign that the new rules are being treated seriously by the authorities. By the same token, it is hard to see how a lesser penalty could be imposed for a new, lower drink-drive limit than for the one it is replacing. This would undermine ministers’ credibility when they say a change is the right thing.
Arguments are made that cutting the drink-drive limit will threaten rural hospitality businesses. This might be true but the drinks industry itself actively promotes responsible drinking and backs designated driver schemes.
This change comes ahead of the festive period, the traditional time for anti drink-driving campaigns. The statistics suggest such campaigns have been successful because December actually records some of the lowest monthly figures for alcohol related road deaths. The challenge for the authorities is to promote year-round compliance.
Not for the first time, individual countries of the Union rather than the UK government are leading the way in road safety initiatives. Witness the graduated licensing rules coming into force in Northern Ireland to try and tackle young driver deaths. You can bet legislators south of the Border will closely watch what happens next.
• Philip Gomm is head of external communications at the RAC Foundation