A SENIOR police chief has called for debate on drink driving limits and penalties, suggesting stricter limits and tougher sentences.
Tim Madgwick, Deputy Chief Constable of North Yorkshire questioned whether the current limits are fit for purpose, after what he called "depressing results" of the latest campaign.
Mr Madgwick said the fact that more than 50 people had been caught drink driving in the first two weeks of the campaign showed "a small number of hard core of drivers are prepared to risk their own lives and the lives of other innocent road users". He said research suggested most people do not know how much they can drink before being over the limit.
He said: "Education is always the most effective route to improve driver behaviour but surely the time must be right to consider lowering the legal limit and reviewing the sentencing options?"
Ed Morrow, campaigns officer for the road safety charity Brake, said he was pleased a senior police figure had echoed the organisation's call to consider changes to the drink drive limit.
He said: “The UK’s current drink drive limit is one of the most lenient in the EU; only Malta shares such a high limit. Scotland and Northern Ireland are leading the way in the UK by reducing their limits, from 80mg to 50mg alcohol per 100ml of blood. However, we need the government to go further, by introducing a zero-tolerance limit of 20mg (allowing for naturally occurring blood alcohol).
"Our current drink drive law asks people who have been drinking to guess whether they are over the limit, and whether they are safe to drive. In practice, this is impossible. All the research shows even small amounts of alcohol, less than the legal limit, can severely impact your judgement and reactions and make you more likely to crash. We should not be sending the misleading message that under the limit means safe – we should be absolutely clear: not a drop for the road."
A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: "We have no plans to alter the drink drive limit.
"Tackling drink driving is a priority for the Government and we are taking steps to strengthen enforcement, such as removing the automatic right for drivers who fail a breathalyser test to demand a blood test, and requiring convicted drink-drivers to take medical tests to prove they are no longer alcohol-dependent before being allowed to drive."
Tim Madgwick’s comments in full
‘The national summer drink drive campaign has now been running for more than three weeks and in North Yorkshire we have seen the depressing results published week-on-week, which demonstrates that a small number of hard core of drivers are prepared to risk their own lives and the lives of other innocent road users.
The offenders cover all age ranges and from different social backgrounds – the one thing they have in common is they are prepared to take a life-changing risk. It seems that for some drivers it is more important to drink and ignore the evidence of thirty years of road safety research.
A Department for Transport report revealed how 30 years (1979 – 2009) of communications around drink driving saved almost 2,000 lives and prevented over 10,000 serious injuries. Four successive periods of communication campaigns tackled drink-drive attitudes, acceptability, denial and decisions.
We have seen several arrests in North Yorkshire where the drivers are over four times the legal limit, or have been identified as driving so dangerously they are a liability to anyone who is unfortunate enough to be sharing the roads with them at the same time.
Scotland are in the process of reducing the legal limit – with the underlying measure that it is far safer just not to drink at all if you intend to drive.
In the British Social Attitudes Survey (2012) – Public Attitudes towards Transport - 75% agree that most people don’t know how much they can drink before being over the limit.
It is clearly confusing if a member of the public tries to calculate how much they can drink up to the legal limit, but evidence shows that any amount of alcohol will have an impact on the ability of an individual to drive safely.
We can see that over the last few decades, the general message has landed with the majority of drivers.
The roads in the UK are now all safer than at any point in the last decade with huge decreases in fatalities. But are the sentences proportionate to the risk posed by drink drivers?
In parts of Scandinavia offenders can face an immediate prison sentence – should we consider something similar? Or are there other ways that drivers can be held to account by their communities?
In North Yorkshire, recent surveys have shown that road safety issues remain a top priority for a large number of people. Over fifty people will be, or have been, going through the judicial system for drink driving offences. How would they have felt if one of their relatives had been killed by a drink-driver? Education is always the most effective route to improve driver behaviour but surely the time must be right to consider lowering the legal limit and reviewing the sentencing options?’