Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The credibility gap

Quite amazingly, Sir Peter North, who was responsible for the report proposing the reduction of the UK drink-drive limit, has admitted in evidence to the House of Commons Transport Committee that he had no information about what must be the crucial factor in looking at the issue:

Asked if he’d seen evidence from police records of how many accidents are caused by drivers whose blood/alcohol level is between 50mg and 80mg, North replied: “It’s not something that was made available to me.

“My own judgment is that we don’t need that sort of evidence to bring the limit down.”
So, effectively, he’s saying that he thinks we should be making policy on a basis of unsubstantiated gut feeling. Surely before legislating on such an important matter, something that would potentially have a devastating effect on the pub trade, it is absolutely essential that the proposals are founded on firm evidence, and there is confidence that they will be effective in improving safety.


  1. This seems to me to be an issue best approached by analysing the data. It may not go down well to say further that whatever level is determined "unsafe" is kind of an absolute value and ought to be consistent at least through Europe. What is the point of having different levels in different regions?

  2. I thought he was quoted in weekend before last's Grauniad or similar, claiming that another 270 deaths a year caused when the driver was between 50 and 80mg, were preventable with a change to the law...

  3. I've just submitted a comment which didn't go through (technical error, apparantly) but, in the meantime, read your 'Opening Times' column, 'A Charter for Killjoys', so perhaps that was a good thing.

    Can there be any doubt in your mind that the killing of our pub culture isn't the whole point of these 'health and safety' measures?

    You could argue, I suppose, that the smoking ban was voted through in the benign belief that three-quarters of the population hate smoke so much that they'd stopped going to the pub. The drink-driving law enacted in the 1970s ('73?) was likewise well-intended, but had a noticeable affect on the rural circuit, as I recall.

    And now the social policies of our country are being handed over to the kind of 'stakeholders' who have a predisposition to bully. It's in the genes. It goes along with knowing what's best for you. They're the killjoys you describe in your Opening Times piece.

    Once upon a time, people like Sir Peter North were lone voices. They had their fifteen minutes of fame and then disappeared, and we went back to listening to the sane, rational people - our GPs and the old blokes who'd seen it all before, down at the pub.

    The GPs have been bought off and the pubs are being 'dealt with'. The Peter Norths of this world have skulked together and been given the keys to the hen house.

    It's no good appealing to reason. When you know what's best for other people you have your own reasons, you don't have to listen to anyone else's.

    Sorry. The first comment was a lot shorter!


  4. @ Cookie: But one set of facts doesn't inexorably lead to one single policy. Do you want to draw a line below which you can be sure that no driver is ever impaired to the slightest degree? If you applied the same logic to speed limits you would bring back the red flag.

    And you can also take a different approach to penalties – while most European countries have 50mg limits, in general those with 50mg limits do not apply driving bans until a level some way above that. The UK has a higher limit, but a stricter penalty regime at 80mg. The likely level of compliance, and public acceptance, also has to be taken into account.

    Although in many ways the US is more censorious about alcohol than most of Europe, in general its States have an 80mg limit, and indeed until fairly recently many had a 100mg limit.

    @ Karen: The comments on the OT columns should work, but once the post is over 14 days old any comments are subject to moderation, and so many not appear for a while. Having said that, I can't see anything waiting in the queue. Perhaps worth trying again.

  5. Crucial point you make Curm about countries with 50mg limit not having an automatic ban. This is generally ignored by the MSM.

    I have heard the figures for fatal accidents between 50 and 80 in a radio discussion. Can't remember exactly where - probably Tony Livesey show R5L, but the person speaking was very impressive - explained that the original limit was set at 80 because there was found to be a steep rise in accidents after 80mg.

    Anyway, such an admission to Hof C Transport Ctte. means he's toast. How idiotic to say we don't need such evidence. It's almost unbelievable.

  6. If the 50 limit reached an early
    stage in Parliament,what would be the response from the 4-5000
    rural and semi rural pubs and restaurants?The same as the other
    white feather brigade when they
    were fed some pap about the proposed "partial smoking ban".
    They'lle probably go alcohol free in a muted gesture of compliance
    to court the zealots approval.
    The only way to waken up this
    backstabbing trade is to boycott
    them totally until they make up their minds whose side are they on
    Their customers or Westminster
    health freaks.

    Not done yet

    PS Before anyone from the rose tinted alliance ,chirp in.
    Killing the pubs off?
    Saw it in the DDR 61-89

  7. "If the 50 limit reached an early stage in Parliament, what would be the response from the 4-5000 rural and semi rural pubs and restaurants?"

    Probably, to be honest, "we must make more effort to serve food". A more defeatist industry is hard to imagine. Why isn't there a petition on the wall in every single pub that has a car park?

    I'd say this poses a severe risk to at least 10,000 of the 50,000 pubs still trading.

  8. I wrote on my own blog recently: "The cry that "one death is one too many" is a hard one to argue against, especially when it comes from a bereaved relative, but before a further reduction is contemplated, we need evidence that lowering the limit will make any difference."

    Now we know there is no such evidence. In addition, even if someone was involved in an accident and had alcohol between 50 and 80 mg, you can't automatically assume the alcohol was the cause of the accident. There can still be the full range of causes of accidents that can affect any driver.

  9. Earlier this year the European Commission published a paper stating that all EU member states should work towards a pan-european limit of 50mg, if voluntary movement was not made on this then they would consider bringing forward legislation.

    It's all smoke and mirrors with the public discussion but already a done deal

  10. @RedNev

    I think I may have posted this before but this is the only empirical eveidence I can find. It is from the Transport and Road Research Laboratory in 1986.

    It suggests those most able to hold their drink it will have no effect on the number accidents at 50mg, rising to 250% for those most unable to hold their drink. I will go an analysis of the figures and work out how many accidents and deaths may be "saved" if the legislation is passed.

    The other side of the coin if rural pubs go the same way as the smoking ban, how many landlords in debt will commit suicide? This company Reviva specialise in minimising your debts and have a special section dedicated to landlords.

    "Publicans continue to face soaring costs and more and more are preparing to leave the industry as its becoming so difficult to break even on the financials."

    "Debts drove pub landlord to suicide."

    It may or may not save one life, but certainly at the cost of other
    people's lives.




  11. I've certainly never claimed that no drivers are impaired at levels below 80mg, but almost by definition those most likely to do it will be those who are least impaired. Also given that the conventional wisdom of sticking to two pints of ordinary-strength beer will leave most men some way below 80mg, the real degree of impairment that the proposal is supposed to address is likely to be minimal or non-existent.

    Given the time taken for alcohol to be absorbed, someone who drinks two pints over an hour and a half and then drives home from the pub may in fact not exceed 50mg at all when driving - although I certainly wouldn't trust my driving licence to that assumption.

    RUPissed reckons that I, as a 51-year-old man weighing 15 stone, would attain a maximum BAC of 57mg from drinking two pints of 4% beer.

  12. Anon: "How idiotic to say we don't need such evidence. It's almost unbelievable."

    It's also not the first time this line of attack has been used. Evidence is a side issue to those whose minds are dead set for a particular ban these days.

    PC: Outside chance - have you checked your new 'spam' folder for Karen's comment? I didn't know it existed in Blogger till today. You'll find it in the 'Comments' tab from the dashboard.

  13. @DP: Yes, I did check the spam folder, but it wasn't in there either. It is annoying when perfectly genuine comments end up in there (often apparently just because they contain links).

  14. What Andrew said.

    This is all a smokescreen, the real government has already decided what will happen.


Comments, especially on older posts, may require prior approval by the blog owner. See here for details of my comment policy.

Please register an account to comment. To combat persistent trolling, unregistered comments are liable to be deleted unless I recognise the author. If you intend to make more than the occasional comment using an unregistered ID, you will need to tell me something about yourself.