England’s first motorway service station pub launches today, amid fierce criticism from road safety and health campaigners who warn that it will encourage drink-driving.

The Hope and Champion pub, operated by the JD Wetherspoon chain, is located at services next to junction 2 of the M40 near Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire. It will be open from 4am until 1am seven days a week, and be licensed to serve alcohol from 9am until close. This is one of 12 privately-owned premises licensed to sell alcohol at UK motorway service areas, and is the first known operating pub to open.

At the moment, the sale and consumption of alcohol at MSAs is prohibited nationally under section 176(2) of the Licensing Act 2003 for MSAs still owned by the Government (and are on land bought by the Secretary of State), but any businesses operating at privately-owned MSA sites can apply to the relevant local authority for a licence to sell alcohol. Premises on at least 12 of the privately owned MSAs currently have a licence to sell alcohol, including the Beaconsfield Services.

The UK currently has the highest Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limit for drivers in the EU (0.8mg ethanol per ml blood), matched only by Malta, however the current limit does not have to be exceeded to result in traffic accidents and loss of life on the road. Adverse effects on a driver’s vision have been found at blood alcohol concentrations of 0.3mg, and the psychomotor skills required for driving have been found to show impairment from 0.4mg. Latest statistics from the Department for Transport estimate drink-drive deaths rose by 17% in 2012 compared with the previous year.

Katherine Brown, Director of IAS says:

Putting pubs on motorways is incredibly worrying and flies in the face of decades of campaigning against drink driving. It is obvious to everyone that drinking and driving do not mix.  These activities must remain separate.

Given that motorway service areas are intended to act as places of rest for drivers, providing alcohol risks exacerbating symptoms of tiredness and therefore increasing the likelihood of accidents occurring.

At a time when drink drive deaths are rising we cannot afford to start relaxing the rules and risk more people dying on the roads. What’s more, the public does not want this – opinions polls show an overwhelming majority of people are against pubs on motorways.

Surveys held in the last year by both the RAC and Automobile Association (AA) have revealed that roughly two-thirds of people oppose the idea of introducing pubs to motorway service stations.

The IAS briefing on the sale of alcohol at motorway service areas is available to view here.