It is common to see commentators ascribe part of the decline of pubs to “stricter drink-driving laws”. There was an example only this week in the Daily Telegraph article by Rowan Pelling I referred to below. But, in reality, while there have been changes in equipment and procedures, there has been no change whatsoever in either the UK legal limit or police powers to carry out breath tests since the breathalyser law was introduced in 1967. Indeed, the ultimate high water mark of the British pub trade was reached twelve years after that in 1979.
What has changed, though, is public attitudes, with a growing reluctance to drive after drinking even within the legal limit. In the early years of the law, this was widely regarded as normal and responsible behaviour, and many suburban, village and rural pubs prospered on this “car trade”. However, from the mid-80s onwards, there has been a distinct shift towards the view that drivers shouldn’t touch so much as a half of lager, which has become commonplace amongst new entrants to the driving population.
There are still plenty of people from their mid-forties upwards who continue to do what they have always done, although their ranks are steadily being thinned by age, death and infirmity. But, amongst their younger counterparts, the kinds of people who in the 1970s would have routinely gone to the pub in the car and drink a couple of legal pints haven’t, by and large, found an alternative means to get there, they have simply stopped going in that kind of regular, moderate way (although they may still have a weekend blow-out). And this has, over the past two decades, been a major and ongoing cause of the continued decline of the pub trade.
Ironically, because of cutbacks in traffic policing, you’re probably less likely to be stopped and breathalysed now than at any time since 1967.