73. BLOOD ALCOHOL LEVELS FOR DRIVERS
(16TH REPORT, SESSION 1997-98)
Letter from the Rt Hon Gavin Strang MP,
Minister for Transport, Department of the Environment, Transport
and the Regions, to Lord Geddes, Chairman of Sub-Committee B (Energy,
Industry and Transport)
Having now considered the Select Committee's
report on blood alcohol levels for drivers, I am pleased to be
able to enclose a copy of the Government's formal response which,
in general, supports the recommendations of the Committee.
In view of the fact that we are still in the
process of evaluating and analysing responses to the consultation
exercise on drinking and driving, there are some areas where it
has not been possible to give a comprehensive reply. A number
of the issues raised by the Committee did not feature in the consultation
exercise but are questions which we shall consider. The Committee's
report will of course be considered as a contribution to forming
policy on this issue.
28 May 1998
The Government welcomes the Select Committee's
inquiry into blood alcohol levels for drivers and notes the Committee's
general conclusions. This constructive and thorough Report comes
at the same time as the Government's consultation exercise on
measures to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by
drinking and driving. Much of the content of the Report is in
line with the Government's own analysis of the drink-drive problem.
The response which follows is set out in the
order of the Committee's report. Because the consultation exercise
has only recently been concluded and the responses have not been
fully analysed and considered, it is not yet possible to give
a definite response to all the recommendations.
1. A package of measures, rather than any
single one, would be the most effective way to tackle drink-drive
(paragraphs 85 and 115)
The Government agrees with the Committee's view
and the consultation paper presents possible elements of such
2. There are two main identifiable sub-groups
of drink-drivers: those who drive with a BAC well in excess of
the legal limit and new young drivers (paragraph 86).
The Government agrees with the Committee's view
that these are amongst the most important categories of drink-driver.
Repeat offenders are also a major cause for concern. However,
it is important not to ignore the many drink-drivers who fall
outside these categories, whose impairment in driving ability
creates substantial additional risk on the roads.
3. . . .emphasis put on reducing the 14 per
cent of drink-driving fatalities in Great Britain is out of proportion
to the effort put into reducing the other 86 per cent of fatal
accidents (paragraph 88).
The Government does not believe that the current
effort put into reducing drink-driving is disproportionate. Roadside
surveys have shown that, even in evening drinking hours, only
slightly more than 1 per cent of all drivers have blood alcohol
limits in excess of 80mg/100ml, yet these drivers are involved
in 14 per cent (around one in seven) of fatal road accidents.
Drink-driving is therefore one of the main single causes of deaths
on the road. Moreover, as an easily identifiable group is concerned,
enforcement action can be very cost-effective, which is not necessarily
the case for action against other causes of road deaths which
also need to be tackled. The Government devotes considerable effort
to reducing other causes of accidents, in particular speed, which
is estimated to be a factor in around one third of all accidents.
Speed enforcement is for instance a major priority for the police,
and government expenditure on anti-speed publicity is about £3.5
million compared to nearly £2 million drink-drive publicity.
There has been substantial public expenditure on traffic calming
measures in recent years, the principal purpose of which is to
reduce speed-related casualties. Campaigns this year have highlighted
the risks of mobile phone use and a further one is planned to
highlight the importance of rear seat-belt wearing.
4. We, therefore, recommend that more research
into the effects of drugs on driving performance is undertaken
before policies to reduce the incidence of drugs-driving can be
devised (paragraph 89)
The Government agrees that further research
into the effects of drugs is needed in order to devise appropriate
countermeasures. The Government is currently midway through a
three year study, which started in 1996, into the incidence of
drugs (medicinal and illicit) in fatal road casualties. The survey
is revealing the prevalence of drugs in fatal casualties and the
type of drug most commonly associated with them. The Government
is also currently undertaking a trial of roadside drug testing
equipment, the findings from which will enable the police to assess
the practicality of testing drivers for drug use. The Government
is also studying research undertaken in other countries to ensure
that valauble findings are used whenever possible. This action
is part of the overall strategy for tackling drug misuse on which
the Government recently issued a White Paper.
5. . . . much of the progress made in the
United Kingdom in reducing the number of casualties caused by
drink-driving annually is due to the stringent penalties imposed
on those who disregard the law (paragraph 90).
The application of strict penalties, combined
with sustained enforcement, is certainly one factor which is effective
in reducing the number of drink-drive related accidents and subsequent
casualties. However, the Government believes that education and
publicity have also had and will continue to have a major role
to play in changing attitudes towards drinking and driving.
6. and 7. The permitted BAC for drivers in
the United Kingdom should be reduced from 80mg/100ml to 50mg/100ml;
and there should be no reduction in the minimum disqualification
period of 12 months at the 50mg/100ml level. (paragraphs 114 and
The Government is minded to reduce the limit,
and has, in the consultation paper, sought views on whether there
should be a reduction. It has also sought views on the minimum
12 month period of disqualification. It will reach a fianl view
in the light of the responses received. The views of the Committee
will be taken fully into account in the decision making process.
8. Second-tier limit should be introduced
at 150mg/100ml in the United Kingdom (paragraph 92). At 150mg/100ml,
more stringent minimum penalties should apply (paragraph 93)
The Government agrees that more severe penalties
should apply to offenders well over the limit. Those who exceed
considerably the existing limit are already dealt with by the
High Risk Offenders Scheme. The Government is concerned that this
sanction is not widely known about and a proposal is therefore
included in the recent consultation paper to give more publicity
to this scheme. Moreover, the existing legislation already gives
the courts wide discretion to fine "high risk offenders"
up to £5,000 or imprison them for up to six months.
As regards Magistrates' Courts in England and
Wales, drink-driving is specifically covered in the Sentencing
Guidelines issued by the Magistrates' Association. These were
revised and reissued in April 1997. They provide a structured
approach to sentencing and suggest proportionately higher fines
for those convicted at higher blood alcohol levels with commensurably
longer periods of disqualification. At blood alcohol levels above
195mg/100ml the Guidelines suggest that a community penalty should
be considered, and for levels above 264mg/100ml they suggest that
a custodial sentence be considered.
Minimum financial or custodial penalties are
not normally prescribed in UK law, but there are minimum periods
of obligatory driving disqualification. A higher minimum period
(3 years) is already prescribed for those who have already been
disqualified for a drink-drive offence within the previous 10
years. In the light of the Committee's views, the Government will
consider whether there is also a case for prescribing a longer
minimum disqualification for offenders with particularly high
blood alcohol levels.
9. . . . we further recommend that the level
at which a driver is classified as HRO should be lowered from
200mg to 150mg/100ml and that the other two criteria should remain
unchanged (paragraph 98).
The Government's consultation document did not
propose a change in the HRO threshold, as it considered that the
current level at which an offender is classed as an HRO on the
basis of a single offence was reasonable and that the existing
system of penalties adequately addresses those between 80mg/100ml
and 200mg/100ml. However the Government takes note of the Committee's
view and will reconsider this matter in the context of the consultation
exercise. The Government agrees that any increased cost should
be borne by offenders.
10. We recommend that the HRO scheme in the
UK should be improved . . . the introduction of a more rigorous
examination, over a period of time, involving psychological as
well as medical assessment. We also recommend a closer link between
the Rehabilitation and HRO schemes in the United Kingdom (paragraph
The Government will consider this recommendation
carefully. It recognises that there are aspects of the current
HRO scheme that need attention, and that it is not always able
to fulfil its principal purposeto identify those with persistent
drink problems and likely to endanger other road users. It will
look carefully at shortcomings in the present procedure identified
by witnesses, such as the fact that offenders who are given long
advance notice of the date of the medical examination and can
temporarily restrain their drinking.
The HRO scheme pre-dates the introduction of
the rehabilitation experiment which was aimed mainly at first
time offenders. But some HROs are referred to courses within the
rehabilitation experiment and the research findings to date suggest
they are obtaining greater benefits than were predicted by doing
so. The Government accepts in principle that the two schemes should
be more closely linked and will be looking at ways of achieving
that in the light of the research into the rehabilitation experiment.
11. . . . age related legislation would be
unworkable. We believe that specific and targeted publicity and
education is particularly important in tackling this group (paragraph
The Government agrees that a lower drink-drive
limit for this group of drivers would be doubtful merit. It would
also be impractical in the absence of a requirement to carry a
licence (if experience based) or other identity giving proof of
age (if age-based). We are, in the consultation, seeking views
on how publicity and education could be better used to target
high risk groups including young and inexperienced drivers.
12. . . . we support better training for police
officers in the powers available to them, as well as greater public
education of the extent of these powers (paragraph 102).
The Government has drawn this recommendation
to the attention of the two Associations of Chief Police Officers
(respectively for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and for
Scotland) and welcomes any move to make the public more generally
aware of police powers.
13. The Committee considers that United Kingdom
legislation gives the police sufficient powers and, therefore,
does not support the introduction of random breath-testing or
of unfettered discretion in police powers (paragraphs 103-104).
The Committee does, however, support targeted enforcement by the
police (paragraph 105).
The consultation document explained why it has
serious reservations about giving unrestricted powers to the police.
However it also invites views on the introduction of a limited
power for police to test drivers without prior suspicion in certain
The Government has drawn to the attention of
the two Associations of Chief Police Officers the recommendations
on targeted enforcement at major events, and on the use of intelligence
to target convicted drink-drivers who may be driving while disqualified.
14. The Committee therefore recommends that
evidential roadside breath testing be introduced as a priority
in the United Kingdom (paragraph 106).
The Government notes the Committee's recommendation
and will consider its technical, resource and legislative implications.
15. The Committee believe that making road
policing in the United Kingdom a core policing objective would
not only help to reduce the number of all road accidents annually,
but would stimulate increased police activity in enforcing road
safety legislation (paragraph 107).
Although road policing is not one of the Home
Secretary's key objectives, these are intended to indicate developments
priorities for the coming year and the Home Secretary made it
clear in his letter of 3 November 1997 to chief officers of police
that he considers traffic policing is a central part of police
responsibilities for maintaining law and order and preventing
and deterring crime and reducing death and injuries on the roads.
The Goverment will continue to consider ways of promoting effective
16. The Committee believes that the DETR's
1997 slogan, "None for the Road", is effective in restating
the old message of "Don't drink and drive" (paragraph
The Goverment welcomes the Committee`s endorsement
of its campaign and intends to continue its high profile publicity
campaigns. It will keep under review the campaign strategy in
order to ensure that the right target audiences are reached.
17. We believe that education and publicity
about the dangers of drink driving could encourage a greater degree
of personal responsibility. Whilst education on the effects of
alcohol on driving performance is included in the general education
about alcohol in personal and social education in United Kingdom
schools, we consider that the specific problems of combining drinking
and driving should be emphasised (paragraph 109).
The Government supports this recommendation.
All relevant UK Government Departments are co-operating to ensure
that the drink-driving message is given due weight along with
other messages about sensible drinking. There is evidence that
the message is effectively conveyed to young people both before
and after they take up driving. Nevertheless the Government is
considering ways of disseminating this information still more
18. In our opinion, the increased use of
self-test breathalysers and ignition interlock devices could have
a positive effect (paragraph 110).
The Government at present has an open mind regarding
these matters and will take careful note of the Committee`s view,
as well as views expressed in response to the consultation paper.
19. In the absence of compelling evidence
as to the "clear benefits" for the Community, we do
not support the proposed Directive harmonising drink driving limits
at 50mg/100ml across the European Union. We consider that setting
the permitted BAC level for drivers is a matter for Member State
governments (paragraph 116).
The Government has no reached a final view on
the case for harmonisation of the drink-drive limit across the