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UK CMO recommends zero alcohol limit for young drivers

In his annual report, the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, recommended 'effectively a zero limit' of 0.02g of alcohol per litre of blood for young and novice drivers.

This recommendation is based on considerable evidence that young drivers are more affected by alcohol than older, experienced drivers. At a blood alcohol concentration of 0.5g/l (below the current UK limit of 0.8g/l), young drivers increase their risk of a crash by six times. This increase is two and a half times as much as that experienced by older drivers.

Many other countries have 'graduated licence schemes' with different conditions for young and novice drivers. These include 14 European countries that have the 0.02g/l limit proposed by the CMO. Research has found that introducing such schemes is effective in reducing the number of accidents.

The report briefly considered an alternative suggestion, of lowering the limit for all drivers from 0.8g/l to 0.5g/l, which would bring the UK in line with most other European countries. This was dismissed on the grounds that it would require increased policing levels 'as the number of offenders would be increased.

IAS comment

The Institute of Alcohol Studies welcomes this recommendation to reduce the BAC limit for inexperienced drivers to an effectively zero level as this have proven effective at reducing accidents in other countries. We would prefer that the restriction be expressed in terms of 'novice' drivers rather than young drivers, as it likely that inexperience, rather than youth per se, is the relevant factor.

Additionally, the IAS would like to see the general limit reduced from 0.8g/l to 0.5g/l. The argument that this would require increased policing to enforce is flawed. The reasoning is that the number of offenders would be increased, but this assumes that nobody would change their behaviour in response to the change in legislation. The purpose of reducing the limit would be to encourage more people to avoid alcohol, or drink less, when driving and therefore reduce accidents.

We are not aware of any evidence that lowering the limit has increased demands on policing in countries that have lowered the limit.

Public Support

The RAC's annual Report on Motoring, published last week, found that three-quarters of those surveyed (1,116 British motorists) would support a reduction to 0.5g/l and almost as many, seven in ten people, would support a reduction to a zero limit for all drivers.

The Chief Medical Officer's report is available here.

Download the technical note on zero BAC limit for young drivers here. (pdf 2.7mb)