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Lord Monson: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may put one question to him. Does he agree that the claim that 14 per cent. of accidents are caused by alcohol is probably exaggerated? If a driver who is slightly over the limit is pulled up at traffic lights with his handbrake on, and a coach comes along with 50 passengers driven by a teetotaller who has had only four hours sleep the previous night and a collision occurs, and all 52 people involved are killed, that would be classified as 52 drink-related deaths. But demonstrably the accident was not caused in any way by alcohol.
Viscount Simon: My Lords, this is an excellent report and I should like to congratulate the committee on their diligence on producing it at such an opportune time. It is opportune because drivers have become somewhat blase and certain sections of the driving population are flouting current legislation. It is opportune also because attitudes towards drivers who consume alcohol have changed dramatically since Sections 1 and 2 of the Road Safety Act 1967 came into force.
However, I wonder whether your Lordships are aware of a couple of reports on drink driving attitudes in the United States, contained in recent editions of Auto Express. In an attempt to keep persistent offenders off the roads and out of gaol, a Cincinnati judge ordered Dennis Cayse to move house to be within walking distance of the liquor store. A drink-drive suspect, Robert Hobbs, who stood on his head to prove that he was not tipsy, impressed the Californian police so much that they let him go. We are different.
Before I proceed any further, I should declare that I am a former examiner of advanced motorists in Australia, that I am a civilian holder of the police Class I driving certificate, and that periodically I go on traffic patrol with the police in the knowledge that very senior police officers have given their approval.
I agree with the current system of stringent penalties for drink drivers and with the proposals to address the problems posed by high risk offenders and the new young drivers who exceed blood alcohol levels. Some people air their views that the BAC limit should not be lowered to 50 milligrams because it would result only in a saving of about 50 to 100 lives a year, according
Those people also say that public opinion is against lowering the limit. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, said, the Automobile Association commissioned MORI to seek people's views on various matters. One of the findings is that 79 per cent. of motorists are in favour of reducing the limit. If lowering the limit results in saving only one life, then it should be lowered. The high risk offender will continue to drive and offend until caught whereas the responsible motorist will make use of public transport, taxis or friends to get home after drinking. The pub trade will not suffer. I am in full agreement with the committee's statement that any future measures should be introduced en bloc rather than singly over an extended period. People would feel far less aggrieved if all matters were addressed simultaneously.
The Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association suggests that a 12-month period of disqualification for a BAC of between 51 milligrams and 80 milligrams is inappropriate because that level of alcohol concentration can only be regarded as a minor offence. I submit that that opinion is wrong. It has been recognised for many years that any alcohol adversely affects driving ability. The Canadian study of about 40 years ago bears this out. The BLRA has also produced graphs, one of which shows total fatalities per billion vehicle kilometres since 1967 and alcohol related fatalities since 1979. The two lines are converging, which to me indicates that the percentage of alcohol related fatalities compared with non-alcohol related fatalities is in fact increasing. So any and all measures to reduce death on the roads should be taken.
The AA poll further indicates that 60 per cent. of motorists support giving police full discretion to stop a vehicle, which they are entitled to do now, and to require the driver to give a breath test, which currently they can do only when reasonable suspicion exists.
I am delighted with the committee's opinion that road policing should be made a core policing priority but feel it necessary to disagree strongly with the conclusion of paragraph 88. I have yet to be on patrol with a police crew which has been specifically instructed to target drink drivers. Officers stop a vehicle for a specific reason. For example, it might be a defective light, speeding, driving erratically, or, occasionally, when drink driving is suspected. It is only when speaking with a driver that in general drink driving is investigated.
I give noble Lords one specific example. Just before Christmas I was with a crew. At four o'clock in the morning on a deserted motorway a vehicle was stopped. It was being driven apparently perfectly safely with its high intensity rear lights showing. The sole reason for
We are all aware of the Christmas and summer campaigns against drink driving. But it is interesting to note that the number of drivers breathalysed during those well advertised periods barely exceeds those breathalysed at other periods. Incidentally, I understand that there is to be an EU-wide campaign against drink driving this year, lasting all of one day. But it has to be acknowledged that, following the 1967 Act, this country has one of the best records of road safety in the world, which underlines the effectiveness of police officers in enforcing all relevant legislation and motorists complying with it.
It might be worthwhile drawing attention to the fact that police officers do not deal solely with traffic offences. After all, the majority of criminals travel to and from the scene of their crimes by motor vehicle. Yet road policing in the Metropolitan Police District receives only 7.2 per cent. of police budget. Presumably, other forces devote similarly small amounts to their traffic departments.
It has been recommended that more research should be undertaken into the effect of drugs on driving. I hope that I am not being too simplistic nor trying to point out the obvious, but any testing should be over an extended period. There is always the possibility of a driver being adversely affected some weeks after an initial investigation has been undertaken--particularly after taking drugs such as LSD, where flashbacks are not uncommon weeks after ingestion of the drug.
I believe that most people have a rough idea of how much alcohol can be consumed before the BAC limit is reached. If those limits are to be changed, I hope that consideration will be given not only to providing approximate information regarding the amended equivalent units, but also to the fact that alcohol concentration reduces by one unit per hour. Any measures that reduce the number of deaths and injuries on the roads are to be encouraged. For that reason I look forward to the committee's recommendations being enacted as soon as possible.
Lord Haslam: My Lords, perhaps I may first add to the tributes paid to our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Geddes. It has been remarkable the way the noble Lord has suppressed his real feelings throughout the investigation. We have to pay tribute to him for being so immaculate in the way he has handled it.
I am a member of the majority of Sub-Committee B. I fully support the outcome of our deliberations, with one exception; namely, I feel that we are being over-sensitive on the subsidiarity issue. Recognising that an ever-increasing number of our fellow citizens will be driving cars and lorries long distances--I stress "long"
I believe, therefore, that not only the legal limit but also penalties should be viewed clearly as cross-border problems and should be harmonised. The other two issues of enforcement and publicity/education which we highlighted fall more naturally within national jurisdictions, so as best to reflect the different cultures. As we have heard, Neil Kinnock, the EU Transport Commissioner, recently suggested that the legal limit should be harmonised at the 50 mg level. That has been opposed. However, limits across the European Community have been moving naturally in that direction. Assuming that we in the UK adopt that lower level, then probably only Italy, Ireland and Luxembourg will retain the higher levels. I do not find that surprising in the case of Italy and Ireland; but for Luxembourg it seems rather odd.
We in the UK are rightly proud of the fact that our track record in reducing the number of casualties caused annually by drink driving is the best in Europe; but it is primarily due to the very stringent penalties that we impose. In the UK there is an automatic disqualification ban of 12 months for exceeding the limit. However, in Germany, a driving licence is revoked for only one month, or for three months if the offence is repeated. In Belgium, the penalty is suspension from driving for three hours--rather like a "sin bin" penalty in ice hockey!
The situation is further complicated by the fact that a foreigner who is banned for a serious offence in the UK gets his licence back when he leaves, as does a British subject disqualified overseas. Under new proposals being considered in Brussels, if a driver were to be banned abroad, the country responsible for issuing his driving licence would be informed. But then the problem arises: should he suffer disqualification for the same period as applies in the country where the offence was committed, or have a ban imposed that he would have received had the offence been committed at home? No wonder this EU-wide disqualification scheme has been under negotiation for more than seven years. Surely all this cries out for drink-driving penalties to be harmonised. On past experience and achievement, we should be in a strong position to advocate that these should be based on the existing UK criteria.
To sum up, if we have the safety of our fellow citizens at heart when they are driving not only in the UK but also on the Continent, I believe that we should accept the need to harmonise across the European Community both the legal limit and, even more importantly, the penalties for drink-driving offences. I believe, therefore, that we should bring pressure to bear on Mr. Kinnock and the Commission to bring about this harmonisation, rather than bury our heads in the sands of subsidiarity.
Lord Methuen: My Lords, I, too, wish to join in the thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, for his very able chairmanship of our committee and for the production of the report, together with our specialist adviser, Dr. Clayton, and our Clerk, Kate Ball. I have personally
The report was instigated by Commissioner Kinnock's revival of the draft directive on the harmonisation of blood alcohol levels across Europe. The harmonisation point is particularly important for those who live on mainland Europe, where to cross the border can form part of a normal outing. I know people who work in Holland and live in Belgium. People are constantly driving backwards and forwards across borders. I have an Austrian wife and we not infrequently make such trips. Harmonisation would mean that people will know precisely where they stand in each country. This matter is also tied up with the harmonisation of penalties and their application from one country to another, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Haslam.
The drink-driving statistics indicate that the UK, in spite of its 80mg limit, has considerably better accident statistics than other countries with lower limits. That is markedly so. It is undoubtedly due to our better enforcement and much stiffer penalties, as already mentioned, and hence any measures taken can have only a limited scope compared to most other countries in the EU with records considerably worse than ours.
I would emphasise that drink-driving accidents account for only 14 per cent. of casualties. One needs to take account of the remaining 86 per cent. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, who made this point most emphatically. It is absolutely vital that that should be remembered. That remaining percentage is due to tiredness, speed, inattention, and, in my case, frustration with another driver, which led me to an extremely serious accident for which I was totally responsible--and I was totally sober. There is also the matter of driving under the influence of prescribed or illegal drugs, which accounts for some 15 per cent. of the total figure. The latter is a growing problem area in all countries, and breathalysers capable of testing for drugs are now starting to come out of the laboratory-- I believe that they are undergoing initial tests by police forces. There are problems with the persistence of drugs over days, as mentioned by previous speakers.
It is obvious from the evidence of various witnesses that the statistics in Europe do not give an adequate picture from which realistic accident comparisons can be made across the various member states of the EU. Even in the United Kingdom, our statistics leave something to be desired and a pilot project is being run by the police to gather the primary and secondary causes of accidents. That will give a much better indication to everybody of what is happening.
Another point is the vast cultural differences which apply to alcohol consumption across the EU. We have our pub culture; the French treat wine as food; in southern Europe wine is drunk on every occasion; and in Sweden it is not acceptable to drink and drive, and your spouse may inform the police if you do, as was brought out by our Swedish witness. Many people in this country think that lowering the BAC level will spell the end of the country pub, as was said by my noble
I believe that better enforcement is essential. The perceived risk of being caught and losing one's driving licence must for most people be the best deterrent. But, as our report says, the two groups at which attention should be targeted are the younger drink-drivers and the older, hardened drinkers, the high risk offenders. Both those groups are unlikely to pay much attention to the amount they drink, whatever the BAC limit. Hence special attention should be given to those groups by targeted publicity and enforcement.
It was obvious from the evidence we received that the high risk offender scheme needs a considerable overhaul to bring it more in line with similar schemes in Germany and Sweden. Dr. Heather Major was emphatic on that point. It should also form part of a rehabilitation scheme for the people involved.
The use of the interlock device which prevents the car being driven if an in-built breath tester detects an excess of alcohol has been mentioned. There is also the possibility of confiscating the car in cases of extreme excess levels. This was referred to during the parliamentary beer festival which was mentioned by a previous speaker. Obviously the ownership of the car has to be considered, but I believe that that would be an important deterrent.
Targeted enforcement should not be at the expense of other police duties. However, in our meeting with Commissioner Kinnock, he said that the Commission reckoned the cost of each fatal accident at about 1 million ecu, which is equivalent to £800,000, in administrative and medical costs, loss of earnings, and so on. It should be noted that this is for some 45,000 traffic deaths per annum throughout the European Union. That is a colossal sum of money which could be used for better police enforcement, except that it does not, of course, come out of the same pocket.
A new generation of evidential breath testers is becoming available which could avoid the need for the offender to be taken to the police station for a blood test and so further reduce the administrative burden in processing these cases. This, together with targeted enforcement based on police intelligence on high risk offenders, could lead the way forward and is preferable to random testing.
My final comment on enforcement is that there needs to be better clarification of police powers, but not at the expense of other police activities, as was stated by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. Penalties should continue as now, but with a much improved HRO scheme.
Education and publicity should be targeted particularly at the younger driver. There should be emphasis on the morning-after effect and the length of time it takes to get the alcohol out of one's system. Campaigns should be year-round and not just at
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