Monday, 9 December 2013

Drink driving - a genuinely tough approach

A seasonal topic
There has been some discussion on Curmudgeon's blog about the thorny subject of drink driving. It's a topic I have written about before several times (including  here), and I tried to comment on his blog, but it wouldn't let me for some reason, so this is an expanded version of what I was going to write there. One comment below his post drags out that old chestnut about reducing the limit to zero.

As a drinker and a driver, I don't approve of driving over the limit, but reducing the limit to zero is a cheap and easy way of appearing to be strict while doing nothing whatsoever. The idiots who have a skinful will take no more notice of a zero limit than they do of the present law. The only people who will be affected will be those who carefully stay within the limit. But the desire to be seen to be doing "something - anything" about the problem would have been satisfied, until it eventually becomes clear the nothing much of value has been achieved.

So what would I do? I'd keep the law as it is for first offenders, because most of them never do it again; they learn their lesson, and the ban, fine and hefty insurance premiums are punishment enough. In terms of modifying unacceptable behaviour, in most cases the present law does the job.

The problem lies with those who haven't learnt from being caught and who never will. I'd propose three strikes and you're out. A lifetime ban for any driver found driving over the limit on 3 separate occasions (or perhaps even 2; I'm not fixated on 3). If found driving during a lifetime ban, prison. If found driving during an ordinary ban, automatic lifetime ban. The fact that you would be able to progress quite easily from the present law for a first offence to prison would certainly have a greater deterrent effect than making the limit zero. Drivers have a licence to drive on the road, and the word 'licence' means permission, not entitlement. A lifetime withdrawal of permission for those who repeatedly put other people's lives at risk by taking a dangerous piece of machinery onto the roads while unfit is in my opinion quite reasonable. It's no good being sorry after you've killed someone.

All we need now is enough traffic police to apply whichever law we have, as there clearly aren't enough now.


  1. One issue with a zero limit is that alcohol can naturally occur in foods. Fermentation is a process that occurs when sugars are exposed to airborne bacterias. So there may be trace levels of alcohol in all manner of things.

    I think for something to be alcohol free it has to have less than 0.5% abv. Becks Blue has 0.05%, less than you might find in a commercial pasteurized orange juice or bread.

    I am uncertain whether these trace levels result in a low but measurable level of blood alcohol, but the question should be asked prior to setting an absolute zero level.

  2. I agree, CL. If a zero limit were introduced, minimal trace levels would have to be permitted. It would be a lot simpler, if we were to go that way, to have an extremely low level, much lower than now, rather than zero.

    I've noticed that my comment has now appeared on Curmudgeon's blog a good while after I tried to post it: strange.

  3. The most logical thing to do would be to make the punishment proportionate for the amount you are over the limit. There is not much difference between being 1% below the limit and 1% above the limit, whereas there is a massive difference between being 1% over the limit and being 5 times the limit.

  4. I've sometimes though that the more you're over the limit, the longer the ban should be. I've also thought that the same principle could be applied to the number of points awarded for speeding.


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