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Proposed Amendments to the Drink-driving Limit

About The Author

Georgia Mitchell (Writer)

Georgia is in her second year of Law at Newcastle University. She is currently pursuing a career as a commercial solicitor, and hopes to work abroad within the EU at some point in her future career. Outside of her studies, Georgia is an avid tennis fan.

A parliamentary group has recently proposed stricter limits to the current law on drink-driving in order to decrease alcohol-related accidents and crime. Health warnings on alcoholic drinks are also being demanded by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Misuse in order to combat problem drinking within society.

The amendments would see a 37.5% reduction in the permissible drink-driving limits from 80mg of alcohol in 100ml blood to just 50mg. The proposed decrease would bring Britain into line with most of the rest of Europe with the manifesto also suggesting delegating more power to police officers so they can stop and breathalyse drivers at any time, regardless of whether there is any prevailing evidence of any type of offence having been committed. The proposals follow Government statistics released last month which show that deaths and injuries directly attributable to drink-driving are at their lowest ever level. It should be noted however that these changes may be firstly applied solely to drivers under the age of 21.

Would it be fair to have a stricter drink-driving limit for under 21s?

A drink drive limit specifically targeted at citizens less than 21 years of age will appear unfair to some and will undeniably prove controversial if the law is implemented. Conversely, it is imperative to guarantee the safety of others on the roads who may fall victim to life-wrecking, drink-driving incidents. Naturally, having less driving experience, young people are markedly more likely to have accidents than are older drivers, and adding alcohol into the mix, inevitably makes matter worse, with just one small glass of wine increasing the odds of an incident six-fold. Government transport statistics show that 14 young drivers and their passengers die every week in Britain.

It has previously been suggested by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in 2009 that under 21s should not be allowed any alcohol at all before driving. Caroline Healy, a member of the council, stated 'they are inexperienced drivers and not able to tolerate alcohol and the combination of the two is dangerous'. However, Edmund King, president of the AA harbours the concern that if the government enforces a 'separate limit for young drivers, it could be perceived as saying that when you get to 20 you are allowed to drink and drive' which could then considerably increase incident rates. 

On the one hand, a law which directly restricts people under the age of 21 does seem necessary to help further protect potential victims of drink-driving incidents with an 18-year-old driver being more than three times as likely to be involved in a crash as a 48 year-old. However, it is clearly indefensible to impose restrictions on an entire age-group based solely upon the errant behaviour of a minuscule minority. Additionally, the law would surely conflict with the Equality Act 2010 which makes it unlawful to discriminate against a citizen because of their age. By excluding a particular age-group, this law would technically be discriminatory, and with the majority of young drivers refraining from drink-driving (with only 5.27% of youths being ‘over the limit’ when breathalysed during a month-long campaign in 2012) the proposal to introduce the measure initially to under 21s appears to be contradictory and excessive. There are multiple reasons in favour of the more restrictive limits, but they should be rolled out to affect all individuals rather than discriminating against younger drivers.

Why have the amendments been proposed?

The all party parliamentary group’s chair, Conservative MP Tracey Crouch commented that the UK has 'one of the highest alcohol driving limits in the world'. Additionally, with drink-driving accidents having increased over the past two years, she believes Parliament should 'start by targeting younger drivers who are more likely to be involved in a fatal collision than older drivers'. Figures have been released by the group which state that around 1.2 million people a year are admitted to hospital due to alcohol; liver disease in those under 30 has doubled in the past 20 years. These alcohol-related incidents cost the government on average £21 billion a year due to hospital admissions and alcohol-induced crime, which makes the proposals evermore essential.

Alongside the notion of decreasing the allowed amount of alcohol whilst driving, the parliamentary group also believes health warnings should be introduced to all alcoholic drinks to combat the type of excessive drinking which leads to complex and severe health issues. They have stated that the calorie content on all containers of alcoholic fluids should be clearly stated on labels, and that a minimum price should be applied per unit of alcohol in order to increase the minimum cost of the least expensive drinks available in supermarkets. It wants political parties to commit to 10 recommendations to minimise alcohol-related problems within the UK and believe that their suggestions represent both a positive and forthright step in the right direction. However, Sarah Hanratty, deputy chief executive of the Portman Group (which promoted responsible drinking) argued that 80% of people drank "well within" the government's recommended guidelines and that "graphic" health warnings on alcohol packaging would be a "step too far". She added:

There’s lots of information out there for people. The industry here is doing incredible amounts of work in terms of voluntarily putting the government's guidelines on alcohol.

To counteract this, a government spokeswoman said they are taking action to reduce excessive alcohol consumption to give people better and more detailed information about the impact drinking can have on one’s health:

Through our Responsibility Deal, the drinks industry has committed to putting unit and health messages on 80% of all bottles and cans. And we have banned alcohol sales below the level of duty plus VAT to tackle the worst cases of very cheap and harmful alcohol.

All things considered, it remains questionable whether these proposals will be at all effective in improving the situation of drink-driving within the UK. The most successful way to combat excessive drinking would be either to continue to increase the price of all alcohol or abolish all types of "special offers" and "multi-purchase deals" currently within supermarkets which encourage customers to purchase and consume to a damaging degree.

Although the proposed reductions in alcoholic limits may have the aim to deter people from drinking and driving altogether, it is difficult to see how it would make a drastic difference to the current situation. The majority of people are already aware of the dangerous health implications of alcohol abuse but continue to drink excessively regardless. This issue will therefore continue to exist even with the stricter limits enforced.

There is a wealth of research and casualty data showing that young drivers, particularly young male drivers, are at a much higher risk of crashing than older drivers.  They are therefore more at risk of losing their lives or being seriously injured on the road, often killing or injuring their young passengers or other road users too. With an abundance of negative statistics recorded of young drivers (such as how one in five new drivers has a crash within six months of passing their test), the proposals specifically targeting under 21s do seem somewhat justifiable. As previously mentioned, it is crucial to guarantee the safety of others on the roads who may fall victim to drink-driving incidents. Thus, due to youths having significantly higher rates of drink-related incidents, it is reasonable to impose these stricter limits, until they gain more experience with driving.

However, alongside the proposals, it would perhaps be more constructive to unravel and attend to the reasons why people turn to alcohol to such an extreme extent and implement harsher punishments for alcohol-related offences, in addition to eliminating all of the aforementioned promotions and advertisements which are surely contributory factors in their own right.

Further reading

Ellie Bothwell, The Morning Advertiser, Drink drive deaths at lowest level

BBC News, ‘Zero alcohol’ for young drivers

BBC News, Alcoholic drinks should carry health warnings

London Evening Standard, Drink limit should be ZERO

Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith, The Independent, Parliamentary group calls for tough new rules

BBC News, MPs lobby for health warning labels

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Tagged: Criminal Law

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