Ellen Booth: Zero tolerance is the way ahead to tackle death toll

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Scotland could soon have a lower drink-drive limit, but campaigner Ellen Booth says it should be ‘none for the road’

As a charity that supports victims of road crashes and campaigns for safer roads, Brake has long been calling for a much tougher stance on drink driving.

Drink driving remains a deadly menace and one of the biggest killers on our roads, resulting in one in seven road deaths. Hence, we welcome the Scottish Government’s plans to lower the drink-drive limit to 50mg alcohol per 100ml blood as a positive step in the right direction.

In 2010, 30 people in Scotland left their house to go to work, school, or the shops – and never came back. Instead, their families received a knock on the door from a police officer bearing the impossibly awful news that their loved one was gone forever, killed suddenly and violently on our roads in a drink-drive crash.

A further 920 were hurt, some very seriously, at the hands of drivers over the current limit. Many more will have suffered or been killed in crashes caused by drivers under the limit, but who were still impaired by alcohol.

All of this suffering and loss of life is needless and preventable. Brake campaigns for a zero tolerance approach to drink driving to prevent this daily devastation to families. While we welcome plans to lower the limit from 80mg to 50mg alcohol per 100ml blood, we really want governments to go further than this, to send out a completely clear message that it should be none for the road.

Zero tolerance means a limit of 20mg, to eliminate any confusion about what’s safe and what’s not. Evidence clearly shows that even very small amounts of alcohol significantly increase reaction times and, therefore, your risk of crashing. You may not feel drunk after one small drink, but you aren’t as able to react as quickly in an emergency.

Alcohol also makes you overconfident and more likely to take other risks on the road, such as speeding. Zero tolerance also means greater enforcement of the drink-drive law. Lowering the limit is likely to reduce casualties but unlikely to end, by itself, the horror of drink-drive deaths and injuries. It needs to be combined with a significant deterrent.

Brake calls for greater investment in traffic policing to ensure more traffic police are out there carrying out more breath tests. We need to show that if you drink and drive, you won’t get away with it.

Zero tolerance is also an attitude. It means the public taking responsibility for helping to stamp out drink driving. Everyone can play a part, not only by committing to never drink and drive yourself, but also by planning ahead to ensure you, friends and family can always get home safely, and being brave and speaking out if someone reaches for their keys after a drink or two in the pub.

Brake will continue to push for zero tolerance on drink driving in Scotland and across the UK. While Scotland is implementing policies that are moving in this direction, and aiming to stamp out this menace, there is a worrying state of inertia in Westminster.

In 2011, central government confirmed that it had no intention to lower the limit or implement random breath testing, despite recommendations from Sir Peter North and parliament’s Transport Select Committee. So England and Wales will have one of the highest drink-drive limits in Europe, preserving the widespread myth that one or two drinks before driving is fine.

We need our law changed across the UK to reflect the fact that even very small amounts of alcohol affect your ability to drive safely, and in light of the suffering that continues to be inflicted on families by drink drivers.

n Ellen Booth is senior campaigns officer for road safety charity Brake

Putting on the brakes

The Road Safety Act of 1967 introduced the first legal maximum blood alcohol limit in the UK and it has not changed since.

Limits vary across the world, with several countries sticking to an absolute zero. In Germany the limit actually changes if you are involved in an accident.

In the UK, campaign groups such as Brake believe the blood alcohol limit should be reduced from 80mg to 20mg per 100ml – which allows for residual and naturally occurring alcohol in the body. Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has said proposals to lower the limit to 50mg will be brought forward this year with the change to take effect “as soon as possible”.

With no similar plans in England and Wales, this is only the beginning of the debate over how much is too much.