Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Here we go again

Not surprisingly, following the reduction in the drink-drive limit in Scotland in December 2014, there have been renewed calls to follow suit south of the border. Transport Minister Andrew Jones has said that the government will consider this if there is “robust evidence” that it has improved road safety in Scotland. Well, there’s certainly robust evidence that it has been highly damaging to the licensed trade. Many would say that was the main intention in the first place.

I’ve discussed the whys and wherefores of this issue at length in the past, for example here, so don’t intend to repeat myself. However, there are three specific points that spring to mind.

  1. It would be ironic if this ended up being implemented by a Conservative government, when the Tories have long been seen as the natural champions of the motorist, the licensed trade and the countryside. Many long-standing Tory voters will be distinctly unhappy about it, and I can imagine Cameron touring his constituency in rural Oxfordshire being asked by angry landlords why he wants to put them out of business. If it does happen, it will produce an abiding legacy of bitterness in rural areas. I’m convinced that the smoking ban has had a greater effect on eroding working-class support for the Labour Party than is usually acknowledged.

  2. Talk of cutting the headline limit ignores the issue of penalties. Most Continental countries that nominally have a 50mg limit do not impose driving bans until an offender is over 80mg, and sometimes even at a higher figure. In contrast, Scotland now has one of the strictest drink-drive regimes in Europe, as it imposes year-long bans at 50mg and, because of a quirk in the law, does not even allow the small margin of tolerance that applies in England and Wales. Surely a less serious offence should deserve a lower penalty.

  3. This will inevitably focus more attention on the “morning after” issue, as the threshold for the amount you can drink in the evening and be under the limit the following morning will be correspondingly reduced. Given that, outside London, well over 50% of commuters drive themselves to work, this will potentially have an impact on pubs even in dense urban areas.

    The government has also traditionally been very reluctant to explain the principle of “unit counting” which drinkers can use to give an approximation of when they will be able to legally drive after drinking. So, following the declaration of an official line that no quantity of alcohol can be considered safe in terms of health risk, might we see broad-brush, catch-all advice that, if you have drunk anything at all, you shouldn’t drive for a further 24 hours?


  1. The BBC have published a piece confirming that there are now no plans for a review, and the BBPA have managed to get a sensible quote in.

  2. Thanks for that. TBH I always thought it was kite-flying. Is the government trying to distract attention from something today?

  3. This would be the death knell for many country pubs.

  4. WHat needs to happen in Scotland is for the Police to camp outside Jim Swinney's house every morning until he comes out looking a bit tired and then breathalyse him every time until he triggers a ban.

    "They don't like it up 'em" remarked Private Jones.

  5. I've banged on about this before myself, and regard it unjust that a ban in Scotland for an amount permitted elsewhere in the UK would lead to a nationwide ban, but it does.

    Before the ban came it, I contacted the Department of Transport as to whether such bans in Scotland would operate in the whole of the UK. They didn't know, and so referred it to the Scottish government. They didn't know either and referred it to the Crown Prosecution Service, who also didn't know. Eventually I got the answer above. Remember all this faffing about if you ever feel inclined to assume politicians and government have a clue what they're doing.

  6. A pedant writes: surely Jones was a Corporal?

  7. Many would say that was the main intention in the first place. - ???

    is it the same "many" that believe chem trails are medicating the population?

    The intention is road safety. The consequences for pubs are simply not considered because no one really, barring a few boozy odd balls, give a monkeys about pubs.

    It's not a conspiracy against something if that something is never considered important enough to consider.

  8. I'm not suggesting it's a deliberate conspiracy, but the bansturbatory mindset does not work in silos. They're likely to be indifferent to consequences if they affect something they don't like, and may even give a bit of tacit approval. I'm sure there will have been officers in the Schottischer Gestaatspolizei who, when told that cutting the limit was likely to lead to widespread pub closures, will have said "aye, and no bad thing".

    And in practice the smoking ban has been far more effective in closing pubs than in cutting smoking rates.

  9. @John Medd: Another pedant writes: Jones was actually a Lance Corporal.

    Seriously, any reduction in the drink driving limit will only affect the responsible.An example; a bloke who comes in my local pretty much every night has a pint of Bass and a 175ml glass of red. At current levels he's fine to drive home. If they reduce the level he may have to forgo his glass of wine. Another bloke used to come in and drink either six large vodkas or six 250ml glasses of white wine and then jump in his car. He wasn't put off by the existing limit and wouldn't have been by a reduced limit. I write about him in the past tense because he doesn't come in any more on account of (a) he got barred and (b) he's now dead.

  10. What IS the evidence from Scotland?

  11. It may not be government policy but there will be a powerful and insidious campaign in its favour. From the Daily Mail, 10/2/2016:

    At the time, the charity’s [RAC Foundation] director Steve Gooding said: ‘In the face of this evidence it increasingly falls on opponents of a limit reduction to defend the status quo, rather than asking those who support a cut to keep making their case.’

    As to PY’s question; from the same DM article:

    Police Scotland figures show that, in the nine months after the limit was lowered in Scotland, the number of drink-driving offences there fell 12.5 per cent from the same period the previous year.

    This seems counter-intuitive. It could be that the figures have been massaged; stopping motorists when it is less likely that they have been drinking. But let’s assume that the figures are robust: well over the limit drinkers might have been dissuaded as their offence is now more serious but I think that that level of fall could only come from drivers now not going to the pub at all, some of whom mistakenly thought that they were within the old limit previously.


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