BAC TO 50MG/100ML
66. Most witnesses agreed
that driving is impaired at BACs below 80mg/100ml. The Commission
pointed out that drivers' reaction times increase and their ability
to process information decreases at BACs as low as 50mg/100ml
(COM(88) 707). ACPO summarised research findings by saying that
"about the only unqualified statement that can safely be
made about the effects of alcohol is that when a sufficient quantity
has been absorbed it often impairs performance".
67. The BMA quoted a
review of experimental studies which tended to suggest that low
levels of alcohol can cause significant impairment in skills used
in driving "to the extent that driving safety is compromised".
The BMA also said that there was considerable evidence that people
who have been drinking lose certain social inhibitions resulting
in, for example, the drinking driver being more likely to speed
on accidents and casualties
68. Over the past decade,
between two and three per cent of fatally-injured drivers in Great
Britain had BACs within the 50-80mg/100ml range. By contrast,
in 1995, 19 per cent of fatally-injured drivers had BACs in excess
of 100mg/100ml and 14 per cent were in excess of 150mg/100ml.
The Commission, quoting the results of the Grand Rapids study,
stated that, for the young driver and infrequent drinker, the
risk of accident increases sharply at low BAC levels (COM(88)
69. The effects of reducing
the legal limit in various other jurisdictions were quoted widely.
However, as the Minister and DETR pointed out, the effects of
a change in the legal limit have usually been confounded by other
factors, such as increased publicity and increased enforcement,
which were introduced concurrently (QQ 8, 256).
70. In France, the reduction
in the legal limit to 50mg/100ml resulted in a fall of four per
cent in the number of fatalities (Q 289). An initial analysis
of blood samples from accident victims suggested that the law
had had an impact on alcohol levels within the 50-80mg/100ml range
but not on levels above 80mg/100ml.
In Belgium, where the limit was reduced in December 1994, a reduction
of nearly 10 per cent in fatal and serious casualties was observed
in 1995 and a further 11 per cent reduction in 1996 (Q 288).
Early indications suggested, however, that the lower limit had
not yet resulted in either lower BACs of car drivers nor a reduction
in alcohol-related accidents.
The change in the legal limit from 50 to 20mg/100ml in Sweden
in 1990 led to a ten per cent reduction in fatal crashes. An estimated
third of this reduction could be attributed to the fact that fewer
young drivers were on the road "because of the economic recession
that started around 1990" (Q 372).
71. The positive effect
of the reduction in Queensland in 1982 was cited by several witnesses.
The European Transport Safety Council stated that the Australian
Capital Territory, which reduced its limit to 50mg/100ml in 1991,
experienced a 90 per cent reduction in driving with BACs between
50 and 80mg/100ml and a 41 per cent reduction in the incidence
of driving with BACs greater than 150mg/100ml (p 112).
However, DETR pointed out that the population was atypical-it
is generally inhabited by civil servants-and therefore the effects
may not be comparable (Q 10).
72. The effects of the
reduction from 80 to 50mg/100ml in both New South Wales in 1980
and South Australia in 1991 were cited by several witnesses: "they
have managed to keep the numbers going down until very recently
when there has been a slight upturn in the ... percentage of drivers
who were killed" (DETR, QQ 8-9). IAS cited evidence
from the United States which found that States which reduced their
legal limits from 100mg to 80mg/100ml experienced reductions in
fatal accidents of drivers with BACs of over 80mg/100ml and 100mg/100ml
Views on a lower
73. None of the witnesses
suggested that lowering the limit would, by itself, achieve a
significant reduction in injuries and accidents. Only ACPO were
prepared to quantify the likely reduction-"12-13 per cent
fewer collisions"-but they, like most other witnesses, believed
that a package of countermeasures was required (Q 46). The
Minister summed up this general view when he said that the problem
of reducing alcohol-related casualties was certainly not as simple
as just lowering the limit (Q 257).
74. The Medical Commission
on Accident Prevention were opposed to lowering the legal limit,
at least as a priority measure, arguing that other measures were
likely to be more effective (p 115). This view was supported
by several other witnesses.
The Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association pointed out that
lowering the BAC limit is not a cost free option as "it threatens
... jobs created directly and indirectly in community, suburban
and rural pubs, which will often not be well served by public
transport" (p 108). The Portman Group similarly suggested
that only when a package of measures including penalties aimed
particularly at HROs had been tried and tested would it be logical
to consider a lower BAC limit (p 118).
Level at which
a lower limit could be set
75. Most witnesses who
favoured a lowering of the limit suggested that the new limit
should be 50mg/100ml.
Superintendent Rowe did not recommend a 20mg/100ml limit although
he commented that many of his colleagues believed that it would
be the answer. His objection to a limit of 20mg/100ml stemmed
from his view that "apart from other reasons the ability
of the British people to go out and enjoy a pint of beer is something
quite enshrined in our history and something we enjoy doing"
(Q 234). The BMA were sceptical of the scientific evidence
to show that 20mg/100ml was a valid cut-off point (Q 100).
Mr Laurell stated "I do not consider 20mg/100ml to be an
effective zero because it accommodates some drinking" (Q 338).
76. Several witnesses
supported the introduction of an effective zero BAC limit for
drivers. CADD stated that they had always campaigned for a zero
limit with a 20mg/100ml tolerance (p 110). RoSPA suggested
a 20mg/100ml limit as a second stage measure (after the introduction
of a 50mg/100ml limit) "so that there would be no doubt in
the public mind whatever that drinking and driving is not permitted"
(Q 133). Mr Laurell, however, did not regard 20mg/100ml to
be an effective zero limit and suggested a zero limit with a 15mg/100ml
safety margin (Q 340).
Lower limits for
77. Some jurisdictions
have a separate lower legal alcohol limit for certain categories
of drivers. PACTS quoted evidence showing that the drink-drive
accidents per 100 million vehicle-miles are highest for the younger
age groups (under 19) and then decline rapidly (Q 93).
IAS proposed a lower limit for new drivers of 20mg/100ml (p 114).
The BMA suggested that young people tend not to drink and drive
because they consider it to be wrong whereas older people, by
contrast, tend not to do it because there is a law against it
(Q 104). Commissioner Kinnock did not believe that it would
be possible to introduce legislation that was age-geared (Q 289).
78. Public opinion surveys
quoted by the AA and the RAC suggested that anywhere between a
third and three-quarters of drivers were in favour of a 50mg/100ml
limit (pp 102, 119).
In both surveys, however, 58 per cent of drivers believed that
a reduction in the legal limit would not necessarily reduce the
incidence of drink driving (pp 102, 121).
79. When the Committee
considered the draft Directive in 1989, we took the view that
the matter was not one within the Community's competence acting
under Article 75 of the EEC Treaty. An important change was
made by the Treaty on European Union (Maastricht Treaty), and
Article 75 now empowers the Council to lay down "measures
to improve transport safety". Commissioner Kinnock said that
"there is no question about competence in the Community as
far as this issue is concerned", although he accepted that
the Community's competence was not exclusive (Q 283).
80. The Minister acknowledged
that "there is no question in our view that there is competence
here, that the European Union could choose to enact a Directive
in this area" (Q 251). The House of Commons Select Committee
on European Legislation concluded in 1995 that the Community has
competence to legislate on drink drive limits, though it has not
done so, and that "in the meantime, Member States are free
to set their own limits".
81. Article 3b of the
Maastricht Treaty provides that for Community action to be justified,
the Council must be satisfied that the objectives of the proposed
action cannot be sufficiently achieved by Member States' action
and that they can, therefore, be better achieved by action on
the part of the Community. Assuming the Commission will re-table
the proposed Directive it will, in accordance with the Edinburgh
have to justify the proposal's compliance with the principle of
82. The Government suggested
that "there is no doubt that there is a very real subsidiarity
issue here" (Q 251). In response, Commissioner Kinnock
said, "my argument for trying to secure a general reduction
in tolerable limits of blood alcohol content is to do with the
merit of the idea itself. In saying that, I am not trying to escape
the constitutional discussion or argument about subsidiarity.
I am saying that there can be benefits from the general appreciation
of a rule across the European Union, in other words harmonisation,
but the fundamental merit of this measure is to ensure that there
is a general application of lower tolerated levels of blood alcohol
content" (Q 284).
83. Under the Edinburgh
guidelines, and in future the Protocol to the Amsterdam Treaty,
the Commission would have to demonstrate, inter alia, that
the issue "has transnational aspects which cannot satisfactorily
be requested by action of Member States" and that "action
at Community level would produce clear benefits by reason of its
scale or effects compared with action at the level of the Member
legal limit at 50mg/100ml
84. Commissioner Kinnock
believed that harmonising the limit at 50mg/100ml would help develop
a safety consciousness as part of the road safety programme. "We
must try to get more people to join the huge majority that already
understand that mixing drink with driving is dangerous. So there
is a psychological purpose. In addition, the message conveyed
by a European standard ... cancels the idea that there are democracies
that will tolerate a higher level because they think it is okay"
24 Drinking and Driving,
a background paper by the National Road Safety Committee, RoSPA,
Driving Home The Limit: The Case for 50,
A report on the findings of scientific research of alcohol impaired
driver performance conducted by the Policy Research Unit, Strathclyde,
Driving Impairment Through Alcohol and Other Drugs,
BMA, 1996. Back
R F, Crowther R F, Shumate W B and Zylman R (1964). The role
of the drinking driver in traffic accidents. Bloomington Illinois;
Indiana University, Department of Police Administration. Revised
edition published in Blutalkohol, 1974, 11, Supplement
I, 1-131. Back
A B (1996). Which Way Forward? London: The Portman Group. Back
Transport Safety Council (1997). ETSC update: reducing injuries
from drinking and driving. Brussels: ETSC Special Report,
April 1997. Back
CADD (p 109), DETR (Q 9), The European Transport Safety
Council (p 112) and PACTS (p 21). Back
also IAS (p 113) and The Portman Group (p 117). Back
AA (p 104), the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association
(pp 107-8), The Portman Group (p 118) and the RAC (p 120). Back
view was supported by the AA (p 104), ACPO (p 12), BMA
(p 20), ETSC (p 111), IAS (p 112), LARSOA (p 115),
PACTS (p 22) and RoSPA (Q 111). Back
of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (1997). Road
accidents Great Britain 1996: The Casualty Report. London:
also Q 104. Back
of Commons Select Committee on European Legislation, 20th Report
(1994-95): The United Kingdom and the Community: Who makes
the law on road safety? (HC 323), paragraph 60. Back
if then in force, the Protocol on the application of the principles
of subsidiarity and proportionality to the Amsterdam Treaty. Back