Tuesday 18 December 2018

A costly and futile gesture

This month sees the fourth anniversary of the reduction of the drink-driving limit in Scotland, which I wrote about here. The University of Glasgow have carried out some research on the impact, which has revealed no reduction in the number of road traffic accidents.

I have to say this doesn’t exactly come as a surprise. The additional level of risk involved in driving with alcohol levels between 50 and 80mg varies between pretty small and non-existent, so even if the vast majority of people who previously believed they were adhering to 80mg change their behaviour, it’s unlikely to make much difference to the overall numbers. Add to this the slow rate of absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream, and the fact that the conventional wisdom about the “legal limit” does actually include a significant amount of headroom, and it’s highly likely that, even before, they weren’t actually exceeding 50mg.

On the other hand, why should those who had no compunctions about exceeding the previous limit – who accounted for the vast majority of drink-related casualties – be any more likely to adhere to the new one? The UK government’s consultation document on cutting the limit from twenty years ago claimed that it would exert a moderating influence on people in this group, but it’s hard to see how this mechanism actually works.

Not surprisingly, there have been claims that it has only failed because of a lack of enforcement, but that rather suggests that reducing the limit was, in itself, a pointless gesture. If more enforcement was needed, then wouldn’t it have achieved the same benefits without a limit cut? The linked article quotes a statistic that of 195 found over the limit, only 17 were between the old and new limits, which suggests there isn’t a large population of drivers who are just chancing their arm a bit or have made a miscalculation. Either people adhere to the law, even if they disagree with it, or they couldn’t care less.

It also must be remembered that, according to the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, the effects on the pub trade have been catastrophic. Apparently, in the first few months, the reduction in trade caused a small but noticable downward blip in Scotland’s headline GDP. It’s hard to see how any pub in Scotland can now be viable outside urban centres unless it effectively turns itself into a restaurant. And, given the different pub landscape in England and Wales, the results would probably be even more severe if it were ever to be implemented south of the Border. Considering that the first assessment of the impact of minimum alcohol pricing has shown a surprising increase in off-trade purchases, it seems that the Scottish government has a spectacular talent for shooting itself in the foot when it comes to anti-drink measures.

While this is ostensibly touted as a road safety measure, it’s hard to believe that, at least subconsciously, part of the motivation behind it isn’t to increase the denormalisation of alcohol consumption in society. In this respect it’s rather like the smoking ban, in that it has been ineffective in achieving its stated aim, but highly effective in undermining the pub trade. In fact, this is even worse. It was possible to argue that the smoking ban would bring new non-smoking customers into pubs, although in practice it was more a trickle than a flood. But there is no upside whatsoever for pubs in cutting the drink-drive limit. It’s easy to imagine, though, the same useful idiots who argued that pubs would take the smoking ban in their stride being in favour of it, or at least pretty relaxed.

The whole thing has been pretty effectively filleted in his usual style by Christopher Snowdon:

Drunk driving isn't a very popular cause, and rightly so. It is obviously wrong to risk the lives of others by driving while inebriated. By contrast, driving after consuming a small quantity of alcohol poses no threat to others and is fine, but it is this that the temperance lobby is going after. It's so much easier to hassle normal people for having a pint after work than to clamp down on the dwindling number of habitual drunk-drivers.


  1. Unfortunately we have, perhaps irreversibly, conflated Drink Driving with Drunk Driving. This is, of course, patently stupid but symptomatic of the way things have been going for some time.

    Obviously driving a vehicle while drunk is likely to be high-risk and it's hard to think of situations where this can be justified (though there are exceptions in extreme circumstance like taking over the wheel and heading for the nearest hospital if the driver suffers a heart attack).

    Anyway, driving after a modest amount of alcohol has taken its relatively modest effect is - and in any sensible society would be considered to be - a completely different thing. Probably less dangerous than driving while tired. Or driving while angry/upset. Or driving an unfamiliar vehicle. Or driving in a road race for a bet. Or indeed simply driving while simply being an inherently bad driver!

    But what, if anything, can be done about this? And do we even have a case if majority thought is now, rightly or wrongly, on the side of the authoritarian/neo-puritan/temperance movement?

  2. I am mystified by the lack of logic applied in these situations by the powers that be. If it was shown that there were a significant number of deaths/injuries caused by drivers in the range of 50 - 80 mg, then we'd all agree to a reduction. But I don't believe that the data would show this. Usually when you hear of a serious accident involving a drunk driver they are usually a minimum of two times over the limit (often three or four times!)

    We have a similar problem here in Brum with suburban speed limits which are now mainly 20 mph (down from 30) - no analysis of the accidents occurring at between 20 and 30 mph!

  3. The Stafford Mudgie18 December 2018 at 17:27

    From all the vomit on Dundee's pavements that I carefully avoided last Friday and Saturday evenings I can only conclude that the Scottish government has spectacularly failed with all of their anti-drink measures.

    1. And that's before the CAMRA AGM rolls into town next year! They are now moving on to "Cumulative Impact Zones" which seek to limit the number of on-licences in busy areas - this is planned to apply to most of Edinburgh city centre.

  4. I think that drug-driving is becoming more of a concern than drink-driving. One frequently smells cannabis whilst driving - often in the morning!Whilst it's difficult to tell where the smell is coming from, if there are no pedestrians about it must be coming from within other cars. There are some outrageously stupid drivers on the roads lately; is this outrageous stupidity linked to cannabis?

  5. Professor Pie-Tin19 December 2018 at 15:48

    Jaysus,never mind the drink-driving.
    You can even have a decent lock-in these days.


    1. The Stafford Mudgie20 December 2018 at 02:22

      P P-T,
      I think the problem here was that, for whatever reason, the Kilmihil policeman wasn't among the 23 village residents that "packed" the pub at 3.05am.
      I've often found that the pub most used by the rozzers, like the sadly now closed Castle in Macclesfield, was the best bet for 'lates'.
      'Do as we say not as we do'!

    2. Very often, the police knowingly tolerated some pubs serving lates so long as no trouble was caused. Before the liberalisation of licensing hours, the Olde Vic in Stockport was notorious for it, no doubt helped by the fact that licensee Steve Brannan was a ex-copper.

      Of course, nowadays, the ultimate form of cocking a snook at the authorities is the smoking lock-in ;-)

    3. The Stafford Mudgie20 December 2018 at 09:01

      Maybe but a late Old Holborn's not quite the same as a late Old Tom.


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