Are Drink Drive limits set too high?

A recent article on the BBC website asked the question ‘Are drink-driving limits too high?’

The UK’s drink-drive limit was originally set in 1967 at 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. In 2001 the European Commission said new safety research suggested the limit should be cut to 50mg per 100ml. Most European countries changed, the UK didn’t.

However, In 2014 Scotland did reduce its legal threshold to 50mg, and Northern Ireland has signalled its intent to do the same. As a result, this would leave England and Wales with some of the highest limits in Europe. Disturbingly, even if you are within those limits, you are up 13 times more likely to kill yourself (and anyone else you crash into) than someone who has drunk no alcohol.

The original 1967 limits were based on a major US study where researchers looked at all car accidents over the course of a year in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Based on that data, it was calculated that by the time a driver was above the 80mg/100ml level, the risk of involvement in a collision of any kind – from a tiny fender bender up to fatal crash – was roughly doubled. So that is where the drink drive limit was set.

However, a new US study in 2014 looked at 1,766 fatal accidents over a three-year period. This indicated a driver was 13 times more likely to be involved in a fatal collision if they were above the 80mg/100ml limit. Even at the 50mg/100ml level, you were still five times more likely to have a fatal collision.


Related number of Deaths

So how many deaths are caused when people driving are under the 80mg/100ml level? The official figure is about 240 a year. But, what is not reflected in that figure is that there are quite a lot of collisions happening where no-one has been driving over the [80mg/100ml] limit. Nevertheless, they are having collisions that they would not have had if they not been drinking. Ultimately the best estimate made of the hidden drink drive deaths is about another 60.


What the Experts say

As a result, experts are suggesting that limits should be reduced down to 50mg/100ml at first After this, then perhaps after a time down to 20mg/100ml, which is what the limit is in Sweden.

A spokesman for the Department for Transport, which controls the alcohol limit for driving, said: “Drink driving is completely unacceptable, which is why there are tough penalties and rigorous enforcement in place for those who do this.

“The government currently has no immediate plans to lower the drink-drive limit.

“However, we keep this policy area under constant review and will always welcome robust and accurate evidence on this subject.”

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