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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.

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These figures offer a limited insight into the extent of ‘drinking and driving’ below the current legal limit of 80 mg/100ml.

Of the tens of thousands of people who do have a trace of alcohol in their blood (though bear in mind that this is anything above zero) and are involved in an accident, just over 1% are above the 50 mg/100ml limit seen across much of continental Europe.

What this data doesn’t tell us is the severity of the accidents they are involved in.

Parliamentary Q & A from Friday 9th November 2012.

Nic Dakin:To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how many drivers involved in accidents in the UK were found to have a blood alcohol content of between 0 mg/100 ml and 80 mg/100 ml in each of the last 10 years. [126109]

Stephen Hammond: The estimated number and proportion of drivers and riders under the legal alcohol limit (0 to 80 mg/100 ml of blood) involved in a road traffic accident in Great Britain 2001-10 was:

Proportion of drivers/riders below the alcohol limit (0-80 mg/100 ml of blood) ( % ) Number of drivers/riders below the alcohol limit (0-80 mg/100 ml of blood) (1)
2001 82 135,700
2002 81 130,700
2003 81 127,500
2004 79 119,700
2005 79 118,200
2006 78 111,700
2007 82 111,200
2008 81 102,300
2009 80 96,100
2010 83 92,800
(1) Figures rounded to nearest 100, since these are estimates Note: We do not hold figures for Northern Ireland.

Nic Dakin: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what information his Department holds on how many drivers involved in accidents registered a blood alcohol content of between 50 and 80 mg in the latest period for which figures are available. [126110]

Stephen Hammond: The number of drivers and riders involved in an accident in Great Britain for 2010 that were between 50-80 mg/100 ml of blood-alcohol level was approximately 1,100 (rounded to the nearest 100).

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Never on a Sunday

In Finland, a country of nearly five and a half million people, alcohol is involved in a quarter of all traffic accidents which result in one or more fatalities. The blood alcohol limit for drivers there is the European standard maximum of 50mg per 100ml. In the UK, the limit is 80mg per 100ml. Finnish police strictly enforce all traffic laws and carry out random roadside breathalyser tests. Those drivers whose roadside readings exceed the legal limit must complete further tests. A conviction for drunk driving is accompanied by a driving disqualification and either a fine or a maximum of six months in prison. Aggravated drunk driving (having in excess of 120mg alcohol per 100ml of blood) leads to a driving disqualification, an income-based fine and a maximum of two years in prison.

But despite these measures to reduce the number of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) related accidents, around 26,000 Finnish drivers are caught over the limit each year. However, the Finnish Government, supported by the Finnish Transport Safety Agency (http://www.trafi.fi/en/
), have now increased their armoury to include alcohol interlocks (alcolocks). A successful large scale trial of the devices was carried out between 2005 and 2008. This has resulted in a permanent programme of their installation – at the drivers’ expense – in the cars of those convicted of DUI. The Finnish Transport Safety Agency believes that alcolocks should now be installed in all school transportation, and eventually in all professional and commercial vehicles.

An interesting statistic gathered from the alcolock data collected by the Finnish Transport Safety Agency is that drivers using the device ‘fail’ to start their vehicles most often between 4am and midday on every day of the week, except Sunday.

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The RAC Foundation believes targeted check point testing for drink drivers is important in acting as a strong deterrent to those drink drivers who do not currently believe they will be caught. Without this type of approach persistent drink drivers are not reminded of the risk of being stopped. Visible enforcement represents a real threat of being caught by the Police and is thought to be influential on many drivers’ behaviour: whether they use their cars or organise some other means of transport for a particular occasion, for example.

According to latest government statistics: (http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/statistics/datatablespublications/accidents/casualtiesgbar/rrcgb2009)
Of all casualties recorded on British roads in 2009, 5 per cent (11,990) occurred when someone was driving whilst over the legal alcohol limit. The number of people estimated to have been killed in drink drive accidents in 2009 was 17 per cent (380) of all road fatalities.

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