The Oban Times - - Motors -

IT’S 50 years ago (May 10, 1967) that a blood al­co­hol limit for driv­ers was first in­tro­duced in the UK, yet gov­ern­ment fig­ures sug­gest drink drive ca­su­al­ties are on the rise.

Pro­vi­sional sta­tis­tics for 2015 (the lat­est data avail­able) from the Depart­ment for Trans­port in­di­cate that 1,380 peo­ple were killed or se­ri­ously in­jured in ac­ci­dents where at least one driver was over the limit – up five per cent on the pre­vi­ous year.

There has also been a rise in drink drive ca­su­al­ties of all sever­i­ties. The es­ti­mate for 2015 is 8,480 – a three per cent in­crease com­pared with 2014.

Po­lice car­ried out more than half a mil­lion (520,219) road­side breath tests in 2015, with more than 60,000 driv­ers (one in eight of those tested) fail­ing or re­fus­ing to take the test.

The Road Safety Act of 1967 set the max­i­mum limit at 80mg of al­co­hol per 100ml of blood ( 0.35mg of al­co­hol per litre of breath). It be­came an of­fence for the first time to drive, at­tempt to drive or be in charge of a mo­tor ve­hi­cle with a blood or breath al­co­hol con­cen­tra­tion ex­ceed­ing that limit.

The 80mg per 100ml limit was based on ev­i­dence that a road ac­ci­dent is more likely to hap­pen at or above this level. But more re­cent ev­i­dence shows that driv­ers are im­paired be­low this limit.

With just 10mg per 100ml (one- eighth of the cur­rent English limit) you are 37 per cent more likely to be in­volved in a fa­tal road ac­ci­dent than when sober. At the lower Scot­tish limit of 50mg per 100ml of blood you are five times more likely and at the cur­rent English limit you are 13 times more likely to be in a fa­tal crash.

‘It has now be­come so­cially un­ac­cept­able in most cir­cles to drive whilst over the limit,’ com­ments Hunter Ab­bott, ad­viser to the Par­lia­men­tary Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil for Trans­port Safety and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of self-test breathal­yser firm Al­coSense Lab­o­ra­to­ries.

‘Most peo­ple now know that if they go out drink­ing, they leave the car keys at home, but there’s a wide mis­un­der­stand­ing about how long al­co­hol can stay in the sys­tem the morn­ing af­ter. Sleep­ing does not hit a re­set but­ton – you process al­co­hol at the same rate whether you’re awake or asleep. The speed at which al­co­hol is elim­i­nated varies con­sid­er­ably, in­flu­enced by fac­tors such as size, health, me­tab­o­lism and how much you have eaten.

‘So it’s eas­ier than you think to un­in­ten­tion­ally drink drive the next morn­ing, or to drive un­aware that there is still enough al­co­hol in your sys­tem to dra­mat­i­cally in­crease your chances of be­ing in a fa­tal road ac­ci­dent. The only way to know you’re clear is ei­ther to ab­stain from al­co­hol com­pletely or to use an ac­cu­rate per­sonal breathal­yser, which gives de­tailed al­co­hol con­cen­tra­tion read­ings.’

Richard All­sop, Emer­i­tus Pro­fes­sor of Trans­port Stud­ies at Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don, un­der­took the orig­i­nal sta­tis­ti­cal anal­y­sis that ad­vised then Trans­port Min­is­ter Bar­bara Cas­tle to de­ter­mine the 80mg per 100ml limit.

He says: ‘None of us knows whether we are one of the thousands of lives saved in Bri­tain over the past 50 years, but as we re­joice for them, we should not for­get those who are be­ing killed by drink driv­ing at lev­els be­low the out­dated limit in Eng­land, Wales and North­ern Ire­land of 80mg/100m.’

The in­tro­duc­tion of the po­lice breathal­yser in 1967 helped the per­cent­age of road traf­fic ac­ci­dents where al­co­hol had been a fac­tor to drop from 25 per cent to 15 per cent in the first year.

Way back in 1872 it had be­come an of­fence to be drunk in charge of cat­tle, steam en­gines or car­riages – the penalty be­ing a fine up to 40 shillings (£ 2) or im­pris­on­ment with or with­out hard labour.

Ninety years later, the Road Traf­fic Act of 1962 made it an of­fence to drive if your ‘abil­ity to drive prop­erly was for the time be­ing im­paired’ – but no le­gal drink drive limit was set un­til 1967.

Prior to that, drink driv­ing prose­cu­tions had re­lied on sub­jec­tive tests such as whether you could walk down a white line painted on the floor with­out wob­bling or touch your nose with your eyes shut, along with other ob­ser­va­tions made by po­lice sur­geons and wit­ness state­ments.

Fol­low­ing the pass­ing of the Road Safety Act on May 10, 1967, the new drink driv­ing law came into force on Oc­to­ber 8 that year.

‘There is no doubt that decades of gov­ern­ment-funded ed­u­ca­tion and en­force­ment have saved thousands of lives. But we cur­rently have the high­est drink drive limit in the de­vel­oped world. Low­er­ing that limit based on newer re­search could save many more lives,’ con­cludes Al­coSense’s Ab­bott.

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