On the 5th December, Police Scotland began enforcing a new lower drink-drive limit. In doing so, Scotland became the first part of the United Kingdom to fall in line with the European norm.
Within a few hours, four motorists had been stopped and arrested. Police Scotland refused to disclose whether their breath samples fell between the new 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood limit and old 80mg limit. While Scotland’s new drink-drive limit brings the country into line with Europe, we ought to pause and assess it on its own merits.
The argument at the heart of the drink-drive debate is, of course, one of safety. Lowering the drink-drive limit, the argument says, will encourage fewer people to drive after consuming alcohol. This will lead to fewer drink-driving collisions and in turn fewer injuries.
In 1962, Harold Macmillan’s government passed the Road Traffic Act. This introduced analytical testing for the presence of alcohol in bodily fluids of motorists. However, no specific concentration of alcohol in bodily fluids was set as a limit. Five years later, drink-driving limits were introduced in the Road Safety Act. The limit was set at 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood and has remained unchanged in rUK ever since.
In 1979, 1,640 people were killed in drink-drive collisions. In 2012, that figure had fallen to 230. Advocates of a lower drink-drive will claim this fall is due to introduction of a definitive drink drive limit and analytical testing. However, this fails to adequately consider other advancements in road safety. Modern cars are vastly superior in terms of safety and education regarding drink-driving is far more widespread. The drink-drive limit has undoubtedly helped but we must wait to see how much.
The effectiveness of a drink-drive limit is particularly important when considering restrictions on the liberty of the population. Regulations should not be imposed if they fail to make citizens safer. In a considered and reasoned article for the Guardian, Michael White thoughtfully compares the delicate balancing act between regulation and personal freedom.
In his article, White depicts the new regulations as an unnecessary imposition on the many for the restriction of the few. Those who drive without insurance or without licences are ignores and those in the “more-or-less law-abiding majority” are harried.
In the age of sensational journalism, it is a particularly thoughtful and carefully weighted piece. If you have a spare five minutes, it is very deserving of your time.
It is possible for a driver returning home from England to stop at a roadside pub and have a pint with his dinner. When he continues on his drive home, he does so perfectly legally, until he reaches the border. When he passes over the border to Gretna Green, he could quite possible be stopped and arrested for being over the limit.
The nature of Scotland’s position in a country of countries invites situations such as these. While I am not advocating a unified legal system for the United Kingdom, we should acknowledge that this chance creates a confusing system that may punish drivers who believe they are acting lawfully. Punishing those who are trying to act lawfully should never be the focus of the law.