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.
This article was first published in the Scotsman on Saturday 25 October 2014.