Back up lower drink drive limit with stricter enforcement, policymakers urged

08.10 | 17 August 2021 |

The introduction of a tougher drink drive limit in Scotland has had ‘no effect’ at reducing drink driving or alcohol related collisions, according to a new academic study.

In December 2014, Scotland reduced its drink drive limit from 80mg to 50mg per 100ml of blood, in a bid to address problem drink driving and ultimately to reduce road deaths.

This made Scotland’s drink drive laws the toughest in the UK, with England, Wales and Northern Ireland retaining the existing limit.

A new study, carried out by researchers at the Universities of Bath and Essex, says there has been ‘no change across all types of accidents involving alcohol’ as a result of the introduction of the stricter limit.

It concludes policymakers need to back up the limit with tougher enforcement – and rethink alternative transport options – in order to address the issue.

Drawing on data from January 2009 (pre-reform) to December 2016 (post-reform) – comprising over 1.2 million collisions – the researchers wanted to test the effects of the reform and consider what measures might still be required to reduce collisions.

While they found that the reforms in Scotland, supported by a ‘heavyweight media campaign’, led to stronger anti-drink drive sentiment among the public, this was not enough to tackle marginal drink driving. 

Researchers say that Scots neither drove their cars less, nor switched to being driven because of the reform and that taxis and buses had not become cheaper or more available. 

‘More significantly’, they found no impact on enforcement of drink-driving related offences – with no more breath tests carried out following the reform than before it. 

Dr Jonathan James, a researcher from the University of Bath’s Department of Economics, said: “Our results show that reducing the drink drive limit in Scotland has not led to a decrease in alcohol-related road accidents since 2014. These are significant findings which defy some of the expectations for what this reform hoped to achieve.

“Whilst a lower drink drive limit has helped to harden anti-drink drive sentiment among the public, the change in law appears not to have targeted those who cause the majority of alcohol-related road accidents: those who drink heavily and still drive. 

“To tackle this, policymakers need to back up a stricter limit with tougher enforcement and rethink alternative transport options.”



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