The European Scrutiny Committee has agreed to the
MAXIMUM PERMITTED BLOOD
ALCOHOL CONTENT FOR DRIVERS
Commission recommendation on the maximum permitted blood alcohol content (BAC) for drivers of motorised vehicles.
|Department:||Transport, Local Government and the Regions
|Basis of consideration:
||Minister's letter of 20 March 2002 |
|Previous Committee Report:
||HC 28-ix (2000-01), paragraph 2 (21 March 2001)
|Discussed in Council:
||5 April 2001|
|Committee's assessment:||Legally and politically important
|Committee's decision:||Not cleared; further information requested
1.1 In March 2001, the previous Committee left uncleared,
pending further information, the Commission Recommendation concerning
blood alcohol content (BAC) for motorists. The Recommendation,
which has no binding implications for Member States, comprises
five specific recommendations on drink-driving limits:
- all Member States should adopt a legal maximum blood alcohol
limit of 0.5 mg/ml or lower for drivers and riders of motor vehicles;
- a lower limit of 0.2 mg/ml should apply to inexperienced drivers,
motorcyclists, drivers of buses and coaches and drivers of vehicles
carrying dangerous goods;
- all Member States should adopt random breath testing;
- accuracy of breath-testing devices should be harmonised; and
- Member States and the Commission should collaborate in the
fields of research and development, exchange of information and
statistics, and publicity.
1.2 The previous Committee noted that, although the Recommendation
was not binding, the United Kingdom was identified as one of the
four countries likely to be most affected by some of the recommended
measures. The Committee also noted that the proposal to recommend
a reduction in the legal maximum BAC level in a number of countries,
including the United Kingdom, had been around for many years,
and that it was not unreasonable to expect the Government to have
a view on it, which should have been, but was not, included in
the Explanatory Memorandum at the time.
1.3 The Committee asked the Government for further information
on a point relating to subsidiarity and for a reasoned response
to each of the Recommendation's proposals and the underlying analysis,
in time for it to provide a further report to the House, including
an account of the Government's position, before the Transport
Council in April 2001. In his reply of 4 April 2001 the Parliamentary
Under-Secretary of State (Lord Whitty) mentioned that draft Council
conclusions were likely to be adopted by Transport Ministers the
following day. The Minister also provided, as requested, further
information on the point about subsidiarity. However, no further
information was provided in connection with the request for a
reasoned response to specific elements of the Recommendation.
The Minister's letter of 20 March 2002
1.4 The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Mr David
Jamieson) has now written to inform us formally of the Government's
decision not to make a change to the limit in the United Kingdom.
"The Government has considered this matter for some time.
As you are aware, we undertook a consultation in 1998 on the possibility
of lowering the limit. The results of that indicated substantial
support for a reduction although there was some opposition to
it. A particular quandary thrown up by that consultation was that
those in favour of a reduction from 80mg to 50mg tended to favour
the retention of the existing penalty rather than a lesser penalty
at the lower level. This would put us even more out of line with
the rest of Europe, where there are few countries that disqualify
drink drivers at lower levels of alcohol.
"I am not persuaded on the basis of last year's road accident
figures (and certainly not the very limited Christmas ones) that
the trend has turned upward. I do accept that the downward trend
has probably flattened out and the numbers of deaths and injuries
due to alcohol are unnecessarily high. But we shall look closely
at the 2001 figures later this year and undertake further investigation
of where the problems are occurring so that we can target remedial
"May I briefly say how we are planning to tackle drink drive
over the next few years.
"We have already extended our £2m annual drinkdriving
publicity campaigns to run at different times and in a variety
of media throughout the year. More detailed market research should
also enable us to concentrate campaigns more closely on targeted
groups, such as younger, male drivers.
"We plan to introduce stronger powers for the police to enforce
drinkdrive laws, such as evidential roadside breath testing.
We have changed the law to make drivers who cause death while
under the influence of alcohol retake an extended driving
test at the end of their period of disqualification (and prison
sentence, which is usually imposed). And we shall be considering
further use of retesting for drink drive offenders, especially
recidivists. We already have drinkdrive rehabilitation courses
as a sentencing option for courts throughout Great Britain as
means to discourage reoffending. The benefits of extending the
scheme throughout Great Britain should begin to be seen in the
next year or so. And we are also interested in exploring the effectiveness
of breath alcohol interlock devices as a means of preventing reoffending.
We would like to begin a research project later this year.
"There are a variety of tools in place to deal with drink
driving but we are not complacent about this; we are improving
our efforts to combat drink driving. But I have to say that we
have been seriously concerned about jeopardising the public acceptability
that our drinkdriving regime commands among the generally
law abiding motoring public. And we are, as you will be aware,
particularly focussed on the problem of speeding at this time
as a major contributory factor in road accidents. But you may
be assured that we shall keep the matter under review."
1.5 There are three aspects of the Minister's reply
that we find highly unsatisfactory.
1.6 First, we are concerned that the Minister's letter
of 20 March 2002 informing us about the Government's plans not
to reduce the maximum blood alcohol content (BAC) limit for motorists
was sent three days after the Government's decision had been published
in the Sunday Times. We ask the Minister for his observations
on how the information reached the press three days before the
letter to us had been signed by him.
1.7 Secondly, we point out to the Minister that the
scrutiny reserve applies to a range of EC documents, including
those like the Commission Recommendation which are non-binding.
Although it has still not been cleared, the document has been
adopted in Council. The Minister has not provided any explanation
for this breach of the scrutiny reserve resolution.
1.8 Thirdly, we are dissatisfied that we have still
not received, as requested in March 2001, a reasoned response
to each of the specific recommendations. The Minister mentions
that he is not persuaded that road accident figures for last year
and the Christmas period show any upturn. This is not a detailed
or reasoned response to a recommendation for reducing the maximum
BAC limit. It is unclear why the Minister has ignored the Commission's
report which formed the basis of the case for lowering the maximum
BAC limit in countries such as the UK. For example, as the previous
Committee noted, the Commission estimates that if uniform BAC
limits were enforced effectively, road fatalities could be reduced
by 10%. This would represent a saving of about 1,000 lives annually,
or 2½% of the total number of fatalities. The Commission
also estimates that two-thirds of the lives saved are likely to
be drivers over the BAC limit, with the remaining one-third comprising
"sober" drivers and passengers.
1.9 Our requests to the Minister for further information
are straightforward. We set them out below:
- Is it the case that, all other things being equal, lowering
the maximum BAC limit in the UK, as recommended by the Commission
and the Transport Council, would lead to a fall in the expected
number of fatalities and injuries on UK roads?
- If so, could the Minister provide us with the Government's
best estimate of the expected number of saved fatalities and injuries
and details of the Government's analysis for calculating such
- Could additional measures, such as those to improve enforcement
of limits and publicity campaigns to deter drink-driving, which
are the Government's preferred options, be successfully combined
with a lower drink-drive limit?
1.10 We request a prompt reply on these points.