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Lord Monson: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but is he aware that in the United States and Australia every state has the right to make its own drink driving laws? Why should this not apply in Europe too?
Lord Rea: My Lords, I am suggesting that that makes for muddle and confusion if one passes through a border, particularly in a federal country such as the United States or Australia. Perhaps it is slightly easier in Europe to realise when one crosses a frontier. It is perfectly reasonable to suggest that there should be a common upper limit.
The committee also came down against random testing as being too intrusive and not cost-effective. As many noble Lords have said, the committee preferred a tightening of enforcement through existing methods of "due cause" testing. I suggest that random testing need not be too costly. It could probably pay for itself through the increased number of fines that would be levied. The occasional but unpredictable possibility of a roadside check would have a strong deterrent effect. I am sure all noble Lords will have noticed that where speed cameras are installed, traffic is compliant with speed limits even though the cameras function only for part of the time.
I would also point out that the Australian Capital Territory findings, which are mentioned in the BMA's written evidence, showed that, when coupled with a reduction in the legal blood alcohol limit from 80 to 50mg/100ml, random breath tests of drivers not only showed a 90 per cent. reduction in BAC levels between
In my opinion the expanded use of "targeted enforcement" or "evidential roadside testing" by the police, which is recommended in the report, would not have such a deterrent effect as random testing. To target a driver requires the police to notice the behaviour of a particular driver which raises their suspicion or contravenes some traffic regulation, whereas the constant possibility of random testing will have an effect on all drivers, even those who can in normal circumstances compensate for quite high blood alcohol levels and appear to be driving quite normally but who may become involved in a serious accident because of their impaired reaction time.
With regard to the high risk offenders, I hope that my noble friend will be able to make a comment on the policy that the report mentions in Sweden and Germany about periodic supervision and testing and possibly encouragement to have some help with the alcohol problem that those countries have.
I apologise to committee members if I have sounded a little critical. The report is full of information, clearly and incisively expressed, for which I thank all members of the committee, particularly its very able chairman and its clerk and adviser, as well as those who gave evidence.
It could be that I have been a little selective in my reading of the evidence. But I do not think so. If I had been a member of the committee I might have understood their cautious approach a little better. But I am delighted that they grasped the nettle of reducing the legal limit from 80 to 50mg. I fully endorse their emphasis on the whole package of measures needed to reduce drink driving. I am just a little sorry that they did not grasp the nettle of random testing or support the draft EU directive which would harmonise drink-driving limits at 50mg or less right across the European Union.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, parts of this debate have reminded me that at school I was known as "Back-to-basics-Bootle". I would remind the House that this inquiry was about a draft directive which purely and simply concerned reducing the permitted blood alcohol level for drivers from 80mg to 50mg across the EU. It was not about reducing accidents generally. One cannot therefore criticise the report on that basis.
That said, there is no doubt that the United Kingdom has made excellent progress since the 1960s in encouraging major changes in public behaviour in respect of drinking and driving. Those are not my words, nor those of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie--although they might have been if I paraphrased something that he said earlier--but those of Mr. David Rogers from RoSPA. They are words with which anyone on either side of the argument can agree. I say "argument" deliberately because there is no doubt that this is a contentious subject. Indeed, both the speeches we have heard today and the rumours we hear
Before the committee, so impartially chaired by my noble friend Lord Geddes, launched itself into this subject, my view was that drinking and driving as a problem was slowly reducing and there was no need for additional measures. It was but a short time into the inquiry that I found, to my surprise, the ground shifting slowly but decisively under my feet. I discovered that about 14 per cent. of all accidents were alcohol-related. At least one Member of the committee--and indeed we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Marsh--felt that it was more important to do something about the other 86 per cent. The problem there, of course, is what? Recommendation 15 is the only one which covers this. But, as I said just now, we were not considering all accidents; we were looking at blood alcohol levels.
We already know that in other jurisdictions where the blood alcohol limit has been reduced there has been a significant reduction in the number of alcohol-related accidents. The Queensland Study has already been mentioned in that connection. The report shows, however, that closer to home, in France, for example, there has been a reduction due to lowering the limit from 80mg to 50mg aided by increased enforcement. In Belgium, on the other hand, it seems there has been little, if any, reduction, due, as I think we all felt, to the very low level of penalties. Taking people off the road for three hours and then sending them on their way is not something we would for a moment think of for this country. In West Germany the problem has diminished gradually since 1985 while in the former East Germany, in spite of raising the permitted level from zero to 80mg when the two countries amalgamated, the problem increased significantly. That was because of mammothly increased enforcement, we were told by Dr. Wolf Nickel, so there was a hidden problem there.
That is not the problem in the United Kingdom. Over the past five or so years the death rate has plateaued out, as we have heard, at about 540 a year. That is in spite of a gentle decrease in the number of drivers found over the limit. Although not strictly part of the evidence to our inquiry, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, will, I am sure, remember answering a Starred Question from my noble friend Lord Geddes on 21st January this year. At col. 1505 she said that
respectively, or 7.7 per cent. More tests were conducted in the same month in 1995 and 6.29 per cent were found in this category. The figures for 1996 were 6.57 per cent. We still have not heard the figures for 1997. Perhaps the noble Baroness will be able to enlighten us this evening.
A reduction to 65mg is not on offer, either from the Commission or from the Government's White Paper, so a reduction to 50mg is good enough for me. Incidentally, Professor Nathanson also answered a point that was made by my noble friend Lord Gisborough. The new law, if any, must be acceptable to the public. We find the professor's evidence on page 28 of the report. We know that the public support a reduction in the level of blood alcohol concentration. When we first started being vocal about this subject nearly two years ago, there was much media interest. From every television programme, radio phone-in or correspondence column of national newspapers the only criticism we received from the public was to ask why we did not go for a limit lower than 50 milligrams.
But on its own, reducing blood alcohol limits will not do the job. The report brings that out clearly. Elsewhere we had evidence on police powers. We learnt that they were adequate but erratically used in the various police authorities up and down the country. We heard that roadside evidential breath-testing kits were almost available. However, legislation would need to be introduced before those kits could be used. They might save police time and resources at the police station itself. As my noble friend Lord Geddes, said, such tests could release police from having to drive suspects to police stations.
We heard a lot about high risk offenders, to which much reference has been made today. We came to the conclusion that only a basket of measures would suffice, and that basically the rigorous sanctions we already have at the 80mg level should be maintained at the 50mg level, with the exception of high risk offenders for whom the scheme should be more rigorous than it is. The level should not be set at 200mg but should be
I could not have gone along with any of those suggestions had I not been convinced to start with by the medical evidence. That is why I have laid so much weight on it in my speech. John Donne wrote all those years ago,