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Forty years of the breathalyser: RoSPA calls for lower drink-drive limit

Tuesday 9th October marks the 40th anniversary of the introduction of the drink-drive limit in the UK, and the roadside testing that enforces it. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) is calling a reduction of the limit from its current level of 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood to 50mg per 100ml.

The drink-drive limit for blood alcohol and the associated education campaigns have been hugely successful in reducing the number of alcohol-related road accidents. Before the limit was introduced in 1967, there were about 13,000 fatal and serious injuries each year in which the driver had been drinking. Ten years later, this figure was about 10,000 and by 1987 it had fallen to 6,800. However, since the early 1990s, the number of serious and fatal injuries involving alcohol has stopped falling, remaining at around 3,000 per year.

Whilst the drink drive limit has had a large impact, it hasn’t entirely lived up to expectations. Kevin Clinton, RoSPA Head of Road Safety, said, “According to one report from the time, it was hoped the drink-drive hazard would be ‘effectively nullified.’ Sadly, this hasn’t happened, and the menace of alcohol is still causing misery. 

“It is now time for renewed action. RoSPA is calling for the drink-drive limit to be reduced to 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood - a move which would save around 65 lives and 230 serious injuries on Britain’s roads each year. Between 50mg and 80mg, you are two to two-and-a-half times more likely to be involved in an accident and six times more likely to be in a fatal crash than with no alcohol in your system.” 

At the same time, the Scottish Government is considering proposals to cut the limit to 50mg per 100ml, put forward by the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill. The 50mg limit is in force in fourteen of the twenty seven member states of the European Union. Eight countries have an even lower limit, leaving the UK, Ireland, Luxembourg and Malta having the highest limit, at 80mg per 100ml. Cyprus formerly had the highest limit in Europe, at 90mg per 100ml, but decided earlier this year to cut their limit to 50ml per 100ml. 

RoSPA believes that lowering the legal limit would pave the way for a new education campaign to raise awareness of the seriousness of drink driving. The Society will be participating in a Government consultation on drink-drive laws later this year.