MSPs have voted overwhelmingly to back the Scottish Government’s plan to cut the drink-drive limit.
The limit is now expected to be lowered from the current UK-wide level of 80mg of alcohol to 50mg following a consultation that ends on 29 November.
The SNP’s quest for greater powers to tackle drink-driving – such as a lower limit for young and novice drivers, and random testing – also won support from Labour at Holyrood yesterday.
MSPs voted by 100 to 12 in favour of changing the limit and seeking powers to implement additional measures, as an Ipsos Mori poll showed 70 per cent of Scots backed cutting the limit, with 25 per cent opposed. Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill suggested up to half the average 30 deaths a year caused by drink-driving could be saved if the limit was reduced.
He said: “The people of Scotland are fed-up with drink-drivers and their poor excuses. It is both remarkable and tragic that a significant minority of drivers still ignore the warnings.
“We believe the current limit has had its day. The time is right for a change that will bring Scotland in line with the vast majority of Europe.
“If you look at the drink-driving limits across Europe, it is only the UK and Malta that have a legal alcohol concentration limit of 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood.” Holyrood was given powers to change the drink-drive and national speed limits in the recent Scotland Act, but not to introduce random testing.
Calling for additional powers, Mr MacAskill said: “We wanted a package of powers devolved that would allow us to consider whether the police should be able to carry out breath-testing on drivers any time, anywhere.
“We also called for powers to consider differential drink-driving limits, for example for young and novice drivers. And we also sought powers to change the penalties for drivers. None of these were considered by the UK government.”
The Scottish Government said it was not considering a zero limit because of the effect of food and medicines. But Aberdeenshire West SNP MSP Dennis Robertson said even the planned 50mg limit might be too high.
Labour justice spokesman Lewis Macdonald said he was “not, in principle, opposed to further devolution” of more drink-driving powers, and added that there was strong evidence that random testing could be effective.
He said random testing could be looked at in future, but cutting the drink-drive limit should be the priority.
Mr Macdonald’s Labour colleague Richard Simpson argued that any cut in the limit must be properly resourced by the government. He said that cutting the alcohol limit to 50mg was the “right limit at present to refresh the policy” and lead to a fall in drink-driving.
“We need more publicity,” said Mr Simpson. “We need a campaign, and not just at Christmas. We need proper enforcement of the laws, and I hope that that will indeed occur.
“Introducing a new drink-driving threshold without additional resources could seriously hamper any benefits.”
But Conservative transport spokesman Alex Johnstone said the lower limit could have “unintended consequences”.
He said: “The people who are drinking and driving and causing many of the accidents, injuries and deaths are people who are already two or three or five times over the legal limit as it stands today.”
Mr Johnstone said that reducing the limit could result in the police shifting their attention away from this group to others who could be just over any new drink-driving limit.