Zero Tolerance for Drink Driving?

Luke Ludbrook weighs up a controversial proposal to tackle drink driving both nationally and locally.

I’m working behind the bar at a Portsmouth wake – a routine part of my job. It’s early afternoon and the guests are driving to and from the venue, but hell are they drinking too. An inebriated argument erupts into shoving, expletives and tears. Multiple guests, who are well over the limit, storm out of the venue, jump in their respective vehicles and speed off.

What has just happened here? People who are too drunk and emotional to finish a sentence have decided they’re clear-headed enough to drive. They are a serious risk to themselves and maybe dozens of other motorists and pedestrians.

This may be an extreme example, but in other situations we all too often hear comments like, ‘I’ve had a couple, but I feel all right to drive’ and ‘He can have one, can’t he?’

The current drink driving limits for the UK are 0.8 milligrams of alcohol per 1 millilitre of blood. Compared to other EU states, this is a generous measure. Germany, Denmark and Belgium allow 0.5 mg per ml while in Czech Republic, Slovakia and other Eastern European countries the limit is 0.2 mg per ml.

In 2014, Scotland reduced its limit to 0.5 mg per ml in order to align with the European average. Since plans for England and Wales to do the same were abandoned in 2011, campaigners have convinced parliament to debate the issue afresh.

While this may sound like fighting talk in a country that loves its booze so much, I think we ought to seriously consider a zero tolerance approach i.e. 0 mg per ml. In Serbia, for example, novice drivers are not permitted to drink anything at all. The same applies to any Turkish motorists carrying passengers.

An objective, across-the-board figure such as 0.2, 0.5 or 0.8 does not take into account a huge number of variable factors that can affect blood alcohol content. These include, but are not limited to, gender, weight, age and metabolism. For instance, stress levels can radically alter the impact of alcohol upon someone who has just got behind the wheel.

As we all know, not everyone feels exactly the same after two pints or a glass of wine. A recent study found that 60% of Britons don’t know the current legal limits, suggesting that most motorists simply use a rule of thumb: ‘I feel sober enough to drive, so I’ll drive’. But how many accidents have been caused by this kind of thinking?

One way to abolish such ambiguities would be to make it 100% clear that nobody is allowed to drink even a drop of alcohol before they get into their car. This would surely save the lives of around 240 Britons per year who are killed in drink driving accidents, 30 of them from the southeast of England, where our proud city is located.

Image by Sarah Cheverton.