Drink-driving limit remains unchanged
A limit of 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood has been in force since drink-drive laws were introduced in 1967, but a 2010 report by Sir Peter North called for a cut to 50mg/100ml limit – amid claims that such a move would save 168 lives in the first year, rising to 303 lives annually after six years.
However, transport secretary Philip Hammond revealed today that the drink-drive limit will not be changed, instead he outlined plans to streamline the enforcement of current drink-driving laws, along with the introduction of a more robust scheme to rehabilitate offenders and a study into introducing specific drug-driving laws.
Why the limit won't be lowered
In its response to Sir Peter North's report, the Government said: 'We do not believe that widening the scope of the drink-drive offence by lowering the limit is consistent with our approach [of improving enforcement and education].
'It has various operational and practical difficulties; and imposes social and economic costs, which we do not consider, on the present evidence, to be matched by potential benefits.'
What the Government will do
• Revoke the right for people whose evidential breath test result is less than 40% over the limit to opt for a blood test (the 'statutory option').
The test equipment used in police stations is now very accurate and technically sophisticated, so a blood sample is not needed to confirm the breath test. The need to organise a blood sample can mean that drivers who were over the limit when originally tested have dropped below the limit by the time their blood sample is taken – removing the statutory option will eliminate this loophole.
• Introduce a more robust drink-drive rehabilitation scheme, so that the authorities can require those drink-drivers who are substantially in excess of the limit to take remedial training and a linked driving assessment before recovering their licence.
• Approve portable breath-testing kits to speed up the testing process and free up police time.
• Close a loophole used by high-risk offenders to delay their medical examinations.
• Streamline the procedure for testing drink-drivers in hospital.
Earlier this month, What Car? called for the drink-drive limit to be reduced to effectively zero (20mg/100ml) after our research showed the difficulty in judging drink-drive limits.
However the Government agreed with the North Report, which rejected a zero limit because it saw little evidence that drivers with low blood-alcohol concentrations were a problem group in terms of casualties; and it would risk alienating public support for drink-drive legislation.
The Government said it will approve preliminary drug-testing equipment – initially for use in police stations, and at the roadside as soon as possible.
The Home Office is currently testing six drug-testing devices and hopes to be able to take decisions on type-approval by the end of June.
It will also allow custody nurses to advise the police whether or not a suspected driver has a condition that may be due to a drug. This will speed up the testing process – ensuring that drug drivers do not escape punishment because a doctor is not available and also freeing up police time.
Finally, the Government will examine the case for a new specific drug-driving offence – alongside the existing one – which would remove the need for the police to prove impairment on a case-by-case basis where a specified drug has been detected.
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