Tuesday, 16 March 2010

How to do absolutely nothing about drunk-driving

You've no doubt heard that the Government has proposed reducing the drink-driving limit from 80mg to 50mg following a review by Sir Peter North. Many years ago, a young woman whom I was acquainted with was killed when a drunk driver ploughed into her car. This was a terrible and unnecessary tragedy, but the point here is that the driver was drunk; he was well over the limit. He had not been carefully nursing a couple of pints all night.

Fatal alcohol-related accidents almost always involve drivers who have completely ignored the current limit, so they're hardly going to care about a lower one, especially as they know they are unlikely to be caught anyway. This measure is just an example of appearing to do something about a problem, but in reality doing absolutely nothing at all.

The way to deal with drunk driving is to increase the chances of being caught, which are extremely low, especially now that traffic police have largely been replaced by speed cameras.  I would propose large-scale random breath tests carried out without warning, perhaps occasionally blocking off the entire town centre at night and breathalysing every driver. Yes, this may cause hold-ups, but it would greatly increase the chances of being caught drunk behind the wheel, thus creating the real deterrent that we don't have now. We should enforce the current law far more rigorously and not introduce one that drunk drivers will still ignore, but which penalises the careful driver who conscientiously drinks within the present limit.

P.S. (added 17 March): there's a saying that what's seldom is wonderful. In this case, it's me agreeing with a Tory. I've just read that Tory transport spokesperson Theresa Villiers said her party wouldn't cut the limit: “We do not believe the case has been made to justify such a change. We would focus on enforcement of the current rules.” The problem here is that if this issue becomes a party political battle, "New" Labour will never back down on principle - can't be seen to be yielding to the enemy, even if they're right (at least on this one point).


  1. But is it right for the police to treat people as suspects even when they have no grounds whatsoever to believe they have been offending?

    Even the notorious "sus" law at least required an element (admittedly often spurious) of suspicion.

    Drink-drive offending has become very much a hard-core problem and as such needs a targeted, intelligence-based approach. Experienced traffic police officers develop a "sixth sense" for identifying potential offenders, but nowadays of course they are extremely thin on the ground.

  2. No, they would not be treating them as suspects ~ they would simply be doing a spot check and that doesn't mean you are suspected of anything. I've had my suitcases searched at airports when no one had any suspicions of me doing anything wrong (and of course I hadn't). I've had my driving documents looked at when I've done nothing wrong and they were all in order. I see random breath tests as being along the same lines.

    It's that spurious element of suspicion that actually causes major problems; it allows police to act on their prejudices. Police using their 'sixth sense' led to the injustices of the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, the harassment of innocent young black males, etc, etc. I'd prefer to rely on a systematic way of dealing with a problem, not someone's mythical sixth sense.

    There has never been a time when traffic police (sixth sense or not) were ever on top of the drink- drive problem; it has always been very easy to drink excessively and drive afterwards. This is not an opinion - it's a fact.

    Lowering the limit is not the answer; catching more drunk drivers is, but that is something this country has never done well, probably because it's more labour intensive and therefore costs more.

    So far I have seen no proposals from anywhere else for catching more drunk drivers. I am certain that my suggestions would do just that.


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