Lower drink-driving limit has ‘little effect’ on road deaths

08.07 | 2 October 2018 | | 3 comments

The reduction in Scotland’s drink-driving limit has had little effect on the level of deaths and accidents on the nation’s roads, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Strathclyde found that the lower limit for blood alcohol content (BAC) has not been followed by a statistically significant overall drop in road fatalities, including during peak collision periods at night-time and weekends.

There has also been little change in the death rate for young drivers aged 16-25 years, who are seen as one of the highest-risk groups for drink-driving.

The lower drink-drive limit of 50mg in every 100ml of blood was introduced in December 2014, bringing Scotland into line with most other European countries. However, the rest of the UK still maintains an 80mg per 100ml limit.

The study, carried out by the university’s Department of Economics, assessed data on more than 1.1m collisions between 2009 and 2016 – leading to 1.5m casualties and more than 14,000 fatalities – with prevailing weather conditions also taken into account.

The study found that, in the two years leading up to the lower BAC limit, Scotland had a monthly accident rate of 740.63 and fatality rate of 14.96.

In the two years after the new limit was introduced, the rates were 704.13 for accidents and 15.25 for fatalities – consistent with England and Wales, where the BAC limit remained unchanged.

Furthermore, the change in policy did not ‘appreciably affect overall accident rates’, which increased by 0.18 accidents per 100,000 of population – although this is described by the researchers as not statistically significant.

The researchers say: “While there may be other reasons to pursue a reduction in the BAC limits, our results suggest that this further BAC limit reductions has not achieved all that might have been hoped for it in terms of road safety.

“This is not to say that previous BAC limit reductions have been an ineffective means of preventing traffic fatalities. Instead, our results indicate that the marginal returns to further BAC reductions in terms of road safety are small, which is a result that policy makers should take into account when weighing the costs and benefits of alcohol-control policies.”



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    This is an important report. Despite the disappointing findings, it should not be dismissed. We need to consider it carefully – methodology and results – and learn from it. Scotland is probably the first country in the world, with a relatively good road safety record, to introduce a lower limit but without new penalties, random breath testing etc. The PACTS 50 Years of the Breathalyser report supported a lower limit but stressed the importance of enforcement levels and an intelligence-led approach, backed by offender rehabilitation courses and public health measures to help those with alcohol problems. http://www.pacts.org.uk/2017/10/fifty-years-of-the-breathalyser-where-now-for-drink-driving/

    David Davies, London
    Agree (4) | Disagree (2)

    A measure introduced to reduce collisions cannot be measured by the consequences thereof! Whether a collision results in a fatality or just a scratch is not necessarily related to what factor did or didn’t cause the collision in the first place – in this case drink. Other factors play a part not least the vehicle(s) involved, medical teams’ response and ….luck.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (7) | Disagree (3)

    I suppose that that can be said to support the theory that any amount of alcohol is detrimental to the cognitive behaviour of any driver. Its been well known and represented in numerous papers by experts that any amount of alcohol can inhibit a drivers reaction times and make them more liable to become involved in an incidents or collision.

    It bodes well for the nil by mouth policy that some road safety professionals and also lay persons would wish to see. Having consumed any alcohol at all can have negative effects upon one ability to drive. Even some medications can reduce ones ability to drive and therefore those suffering from any medical condition that requires them to take any drugs or alcohol should think twice about their ability to drive and the consequences of driving.

    If the stats are to be believed then greater good would come about by stopping drivers from drinking entirely

    Agree (6) | Disagree (8)

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