Saturday 27 November 2010

No change

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.


  1. I've been pulled a couple of times and breathalysed (both clear) within yards of leaving a pub carpark, Police tend to park up in the dark and wait. Another is CCTV, I was drinking in Stockton one Friday night, guy who drove us there decided he wasn't leaving his car there, I told him we're getting a taxi home and I'd drive him back next morning to pick up his car but no he wouldn't have it. CCTV had followed him from the pub to the carpark and he didn't get 20 yds before he got pulled. It just isn't worth it.

  2. Yes, but the point is that people in general are reluctant to do what is undisputably legal, to the great detriment of the pub trade.

    I wouldn't remotely suggest that anyone deliberately "takes a chance", although it must be said that the chances of a specific breathalyser pull at lunchtimes is minuscule.

  3. I agree with everything you've written. I don't usually take the car when going to the pub, except when I'm collecting adverts from country pubs for our local CAMRA mag. Then I'll carefully have up to4 halves of ordinary strength beer spread over 2 or 3 hours. I feel quite justified in doing this, and know I'd pass the breath test, but I do know some who wouldn't even do that. It's a pity that people feel bullied into not doing something that is pefectly legal and - in my opinion - safe.

  4. I regularly visit (maybe between twice a month and every other month) three pubs on the fringes of the Greater Manchester urban area where I would say a considerable majority of customers travel by car.

    All seem to do reasonably well, and on a good day you can experience the buzz and conviviality that has vanished from so many pubs. And I'm not suggesting that any of their customers are knowingly breaking the law.

    But the absence of under-40s, except when visiting with parents, is very noticeable.


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