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"Drink driving laws need to be changed"

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This has been the cry from Tim Madgwick, the deputy chief constable of North Yorkshire. This has come about as a result of the drink driving campaign which has been run by Yorkshire police over the course of the world cup. So far over 50 people have been caught drink driving in this campaign, a figure Mr Madgwick described as ‘depressing’. He also stated that these results showed, ‘a small number of hard core of drivers are prepared to risk their own lives and the lives of other innocent road users’.

On the face of it, not a statement that many people will be inclined to disagree with, public opinion is overwhelmingly against drink driving and understandably so. There should however, be a clear difference drawn between those who knowingly and intentionally break the law by driving when it is clear that they are unfit to do so, and those who make a genuine mistake and are only marginally above the limit. Many people in the latter category have driven the morning after a night out, sometime waiting until the early afternoon to drive, believing that they are safe to do so. It is widely accepted that most people are unsure as to how much they can drink before being over the limit and how long they have to wait the next day until they are safe to drive. There is no easy answer to give, even those who specialise in this area of law cannot definitively say when a person is back under the limit. When experts prepare reports for Court they have to give a time frame in which is it possible that the defendant was safe to drive again, this can cover several hours.

The question about lowering the drink drive limit therefore becomes largely about how people will react to this new limit. Will it encourage people to not drink at all when driving, even the next day, or will it simply result in further confusion about how much is acceptable? Mr Madgwick accepted that people are often unsure regarding this and said, ‘Education is always the most effective route to improve driver behaviour’. Indeed there has been an almost constant drive by the government and police force over the last 30 years to make it clear that drink driving is not a victimless crime and that it puts other road users at significant risk.

Reducing the drink drive limit is only effective if it is enforced, and if it actually reduces the risk posed to other road users. Mr Madgwick has neglected to say how many accidents are caused when a driver is between the readings of 50 mg in blood (the proposed lower limit) and 80 mg (the current limit). If this number is a very small amount then it is immediately questionable what benefit reducing the legal limit would have.

This therefore raises the question, is further reducing the limit the best way forward, or would it be preferable to see the current legislation enforced more often and more efforts made to educate people about the dangers of drink driving? At the moment, first time offenders are offered the option of attending a drink drive awareness course as it has been shown that this significantly reduces the risk of re-offending. Would it not be more beneficial to include this as a mandatory part of passing your driving test? If this was done before anyone was legally allowed to drive then it would seem that this would have a far more beneficial effect that simply reducing the limit.

By Alex Garner, a paralegal in the driving offences department