Friday, November 29, 2013

Drink Driving Rates At Their Lowest: But Could Law Do More?

Brought to you by our friends at McMillans Solicitors

As winter approaches, police forces tend to see a gradual increasing trend of drink driving rates compared with other times of the year – whether it’s Christmas parties or people tempted to drive home rather than walking in an attempt to avoid the bitterly cold weather, the statistics make us all hugely aware of this problem.

Earlier this year, the Department for Transport released its revised drink driving accident figures for 2012, and in November the Emergency Medicine Journal showed that annual car deaths are at their lowest in 50 years. This guest post, provided by McMillans Solicitors, looks at the wider statistics to ask whether changes in law are necessary.

Will The Rates Begin To Rise As Law Remains Unchanged?

Looking at the figures over the last three years as a whole, drink driving accident rates in the UK are at the lowest they’ve ever been since records began, and the overall number of car deaths in England and Wales are down 40% in 50 years – so current laws are working, right?

Well, not necessarily – isolated figures just for 2012 show a 26% rise in drink driving deaths, and research released this month from the Emergency Medicine Journal suggests that road accidents are expected to become the fifth leading cause of death by the year 2030.

There have been a wide range of suggested changes to laws ranging from calls for a reduction in blood-alcohol limits to immediate driving bans for anyone awaiting trial for a drink driving offence. The latter comes from the family of a teenage student killed by a (now convicted) drink driver, stemming from their understandable frustration at the accused being able to continue driving before standing trial.

Would such a drastic change be actually helpful, or is it merely a grief-fuelled reaction? The effect on potentially innocent or those whose cases would fall within special reasons may be negatively affected – facing job losses or ‘exceptional hardship’ before they’re able to show they shouldn’t be banned.

Are Changes Necessary Or Would They Be Reactionary?

As it stands, the UK’s laws on drink driving are considered by some to be far too liberal when compared with other EU countries; the maximum legal limit is currently 80mg per 100ml of blood, which is higher than any other European country (except for Malta, whose limit is also 80mg).  

The UK’s Institute for Alcohol Studies has conducted research that suggests drivers with 50-80mg of alcohol per 100ml are at six times greater a risk of dying in an accident when compared with drivers who haven’t drunk anything – yet they would still be legally fine to drive. So it would seem that, for some changes, evidence exists for changes in the law, and many organisations have called for this shift in legal limits.

As well as the IAS, who carried out this research, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa) have also called for stricter limits on alcohol levels for drink-related motoring offences, hoping to bring the UK (at the very least) in line with a vast majority of other EU countries at 0.05%.

In all likelihood, major shifts in in-depth drink driving law are unlikely – anything significant will likely come from case law. However, based on IAS research, the introduction of a lower legal limit (ie. 50mg per 100ml) could have massively beneficial knock-on effects.

This guest post was written by Tom McShane – blogger, driver and writer for McMillans Solicitors, who are a UK-based drink driving solicitors firm.

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