Government says no to lowering drink driving limit in UK

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 23 March 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d1877
  1. Susan Mayor
  1. 1London

The government has decided against lowering the legal drink driving limit for alcohol in the United Kingdom, despite a recommendation from an independent report, which showed that this could save more than 300 lives a year.

The transport secretary, Philip Hammond, announced a package of measures on driving, alcohol, and drugs on 21 March, in response to the report by the legal scholar Peter North on drink and drug driving, which recommended reducing the limit from 80 mg to 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood (BMJ 2010;340:c3315, doi:10.1136/bmj.c3315).

In his report Sir Peter had said that introducing a 50 mg alcohol limit—equating to drinking one pint of strong beer for some people—would save as many as 168 lives in the first year of implementation. This would rise to as many as 303 lives by the sixth year.

Mr Hammond argued that strengthening enforcement, rather than lowering the limit, was the key to stopping drivers who ignore current legislation. He said that this decision had been informed, in part, by figures showing that 40% of drink drivers caught by police have alcohol concentration that are 2.5 times the legal limit, so lowering the limit would have little effect.

The British Medical Association was “extremely disappointed” by the decision not to reduce the drink driving limit. A spokesperson said, “The BMA has lobbied for a reduction in the drink drive limit for over 20 years. We believe that such a move will help prevent deaths and reduce the number of lives ruined by drink driving. A reduction in the limit would also bring the UK in line with most other European countries.”

To improve enforcement of existing legislation Mr Hammond said that the government would introduce measures to revoke the right of people whose breath test indicates a concentration of less than 40% over the limit to opt for a blood test. Delays mean that blood alcohol levels have often fallen below the legal limit by the time a blood test is carried out, he said.

In addition, the transport department will approve portable evidential breath testing equipment for use by the police and will streamline testing of drink drivers in hospital. There will also be a more “robust” drink drive rehabilitation scheme, requiring drink drivers who are substantially over the limit to take remedial training and an assessment before getting their licence back.

Mr Hammond has also introduced measures to reduce driving while under the influence of drugs, including approving preliminary drug testing equipment for use initially in police stations but with the aim of using it at the roadside. He said that the government will examine the case for a new drug driving offence that will remove the need for police to prove impairment on a case by case basis where a specified drug has been detected.


Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d1877


View Abstract

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription