Minister announces plans for lower drink drive limit in Northern Ireland

13.00 | 26 September 2011 | | 9 comments

Northern Ireland’s environment minister has announced his intention to cut the drink-drive limit from its current level of 80mg/100ml to 50mg/100ml (BBC News).

Alex Attwood’s proposals would see the limit in Northern Ireland fall in line with many other European countries, but differ from the rest of the UK.

Under the proposals there would be another lower limit of 20mg/100ml for young drivers and people who drive for work. The minister also proposes, in certain circumstances, removing a driver’s right to opt for a blood or urine sample instead of a breath test.

Other plans include: a new graduated penalty regime that will allow for fixed penalties for first offences at lower limits; court prosecution for high level first offences or any second or subsequent offences; and automatic referral of offenders to an approved drink-drive rehabilitation scheme.

Alex Attwood said: “I am determined to do what I can to tackle this issue once and for all.

“I have listened to the public on this. There is widespread public support for a step change in how we deal with drink drivers and I believe that what I am proposing will make a real difference.”

Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), said: “RoSPA has long campaigned for a lower drink-drive limit across the whole of the UK, which no Government has yet been willing to implement.

“We support Northern Ireland’s proposal and hope that if it goes ahead the rest of the UK would follow its lead. A lower limit would save lives.”

Julie Townsend, from the road safety charity Brake, said: “We welcome these moves in Northern Ireland to help tackle the needless and costly casualties caused by drink driving.

“In particular, we support proposals for a lower drink drive limit, and random breath testing powers for police, which will provide a more effective deterrent and show that drink driving is a crime you can’t get away with. We hope to see the rest of the UK following suit on these points.

“However, Brake would like to see a tougher regime than that proposed in Northern Ireland. We advocate a zero tolerance drink drive limit of 20mg per 100ml of alcohol for all drivers, in line with evidence that even very small amounts of alcohol affect your driving. This sends a clear message that it’s always none for the road.

“We are also concerned that fixed penalties for first offences at lower limits could cause confusion, leading to some drivers believing that being just a bit over the limit is acceptable. It is not.”

Click here to read the full BBC News report.


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    No, Dave, I do not agree with your assertions nor with your deliberate misinterpretation of my post, please do not misquote me in this way.

    Honor Byford, North Yorkshire
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    Honor, you agree with me that there is “little evidence” that this policy will improve road safety, which was the point of the 1st post here.

    Can you imagine a new design of aircraft for which there was “little evidence” that it was safe?

    When Police stopped drivers for the manner of their driving and found they were d/d, they demonstrated 2 points:

    1) The driver had taken too much alcohol
    2) This had affected their driving so much that this was obvious just by observing them.

    This meant that removal of licence was justified, and I know that we had little sympathy when a friend was banned in this way.

    But when people are fined or banned for driving that is not demonstrated to be unsafe, there are all sorts of knock-on effects.

    But there is no point opposing this new law as it will be bulldozed through without good evidence, like so much else, and we will all live with the consequences.

    ps I hardly drink at all and never d+d except possibly after chicken in red wine or a sherry triffle.

    Dave Finney – Slough
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    Oh, come on Dave you can do better than this? The full quote that you have more than halved – presumably to change its meaning – is; “There is little evidence to directly contribute collisions and crashes as resulting from drivers with a blood alcohol level below the prescribed limit because, if the breath test is negative, no further tests are carried out unless drug impairment is suspected and the causations will not include impairment. That doesn’t mean that driver impairment resulting in a collision only starts at or above the prescribed limit, it means that we haven’t got the records and data for collisions involving drivers with a lower count from which to make that assessment.”

    I have put time and effort into joining an informed debate on an important subject – please don’t then distort what I have said to fit your own conspiracy theory.

    Or, assuming that you really intended to quote me in full not in part, I am delighted that you agree with me.

    Honor Byford, North Yorkshire
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    I agree with Honor Byford “There is little evidence to directly contribute collisions and crashes as resulting from drivers with a blood alcohol level below the prescribed limit”.

    I don’t dispute that one drink may affect driving ability, but so do many other things that we wouldn’t ban.

    But road safety is treated fundamentally differently to all other aspects of safety engineering in 2 ways:

    1: often no real evidence for most policy.
    2: massive spin, deception and denial.

    These 2 seem to be linked because without good evidence, the spin and deception is needed to force policies through, and then denial of the negative effects created.

    I’m not saying lowering the d/d limit wouldn’t produce a benefit, but will those in road safety ever realize there is a law of unintended consequences?

    Just the spin, deception and denial on their own cause huge problems, without all the other issues. And road safety is life or death, this should not be treated so glibly.

    Dave Finney – Slough
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    There is a wealth of evidence that demonstrates that consumption of alcohol impairs many of the motor and neurological functions required for driving at much lower levels than our current legal limit. There is little evidence to directly contribute collisions and crashes as resulting from drivers with a blood alcohol level below the prescribed limit because, if the breath test is negative, no further tests are carried out unless drug impairment is suspected and the causations will not include impairment. That doesn’t mean that driver impairment resulting in a collision only starts at or above the prescribed limit, it means that we haven’t got the records and data for collisions involving drivers with a lower count from which to make that assessment. The effects of alcohol on driving ability is what is important and there has been a great deal of research since our current legal limit was decided upon, some fifty plus years ago, based on the evidence available at that time. Whether politicians choose to take account of this more detailed evidence or not is the real question. Northern Irelands government has taken one view, UK government has taken another view. In my opinion we should be careful as to how we limit peoples liberty and freedoms but we should not always wait for total evidence as that will always be years later: there is also a place for the exercise of informed judgement made using the available evidence. That said, in this case, the evidence is now amply available.

    For example: (sorry it’s a bit long)

    Studies of Alcohol-Related Impairment

    The epidemiologic evidence linking alcohol and transportation accidents is supported by experimental studies of alcohol’s effect on specific driving-related skills. Although the following discussion concentrates on highway traffic safety, most of the skills involved pertain to other forms of transportation as well. These skills may be divided into cognitive skills, such as information processing, and psychomotor skills (those involving eye-brain-hand coordination). Impairment is related to alcohol in terms of its concentration in the bloodstream. For reference, a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.04 percent might be achieved by a 150-pound man consuming two drinks in 1 hour (7).

    The brain’s control of eye movements is highly vulnerable to alcohol. In driving, the eyes must focus briefly on important objects in the visual field and track them as they (and the vehicle) move. Low to moderate BAC’s (0.03 to 0.05 percent) interfere with voluntary eye movements, impairing the eye’s ability to rapidly track a moving target (8-10).

    Steering is a complex psychomotor task in which alcohol effects on eye-to-hand reaction time are superimposed upon the visual effects described above. Significant impairment in steering ability may begin as low as approximately 0.035 percent BAC and rises as BAC increases (11).

    Alcohol impairs nearly every aspect of information processing by the brain (3). Alcohol-impaired drivers require more time to read a street sign or to respond to a traffic signal than unimpaired drivers; consequently, they tend to look at fewer sources of information (12). Research on the effects of alcohol on performance by both auto-mobile and aircraft operators shows a narrowing of the attentional field beginning at approximately 0.04 percent BAC (13).

    The most sensitive aspect of driving performance is the division of attention among component skills. Drivers must maintain their vehicles in the proper lane and direction (a tracking task) while monitoring the environment for vital safety information, such as other vehicles, traffic signals, and pedestrians. Alcohol-impaired subjects who are required to divide their attention between two tasks tend to favor one of them. Therefore, alcohol-impaired drivers tend to concentrate on steering, becoming less vigilant with respect to safety information. Results of numerous studies indicate that divided attention deficits occur as low as 0.02 percent BAC (12).

    Results of epidemiologic and experimental studies permit certain conclusions to be drawn. First, the degree of impairment depends on the complexity of the task involved as well as the BAC (1). Second, the magnitude of alcohol-induced impairment rises as BAC increases and dissipates as alcohol is eliminated from the body. Third, at a given BAC, some skills are more impaired than others (12). Finally, investigators have not found an absolute BAC threshold below which there is no impairment of any kind. Certain skills important for driving are impaired at 0.01 to 0.02 percent BAC, the lowest levels that can be measured reliably by commonly used devices (17).

    Please follow the link to see the full discussion and research references.

    This is one of very may literature studies and research reports that confirm the significant effects of alcohol on a drivers ability to undertake the complicated, interrelated tasks required to drive a vehicle.

    Honor Byford, North Yorkshire
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    Dave – as a rule of thumb the average person will process one unit of alcohol per hour, so one hour after drinking one unit your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) will return to zero or near zero. Drinking two units will take two hours and so on.

    However, there are two key problems with this:

    1. Knowing what a unit is?
    Alcohol comes in different strengths and different volumes making it difficult to easily know the number of units being consumed – unless it is printed on the can or bottle! Other factors hiding the amount of alcohol being consumed are when larger size wine glasses are being used and when glasses are being topped up before they are empty!

    2. Are you an average person?
    Individuals do have different process rates, so someone might not be ‘average’ and it may take them longer to process the alcohol.

    As far as the author being biased by saying “drink and drug driving are clearly activities which endanger public safety” you are entitled to your opinion but for me he is simply stating fact.

    James Gibson, Leicestershire
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    Thanks for the link, James.

    The report states: “approximately 35% of all drivers killed have some alcohol present. 17% of drivers killed have been drinking but their BAC is below the legal limit, measuring between 10 mg/100 ml and 80 mg/100 ml, while 18% of all drivers killed in road traffic accidents are over the limit, with 2% just over the limit with a BAC of between 80 mg/100 ml and 100 mg/100 ml”

    So how many drivers have “some alcohol present” in their system on average? The vast majority of people take alcohol so would a glass or 2 of wine show up the following morning as “some alcohol present”?

    The evidence is clear for the limit at present but in the majority of collisions by drunks, they are way over the current limit.

    The authors of that report are clearly biased as they state “In carrying out the Review, fundamental principles were considered:

    drink and drug driving are clearly activities which endanger public safety and more should be done to detect and deter those driving while impaired by drink and drugs”.

    Surely that might be a finding after the evidence is evaluated, not the starting point?

    It looks like they only found the evidence they were already convinced of!

    Dave Finney – Slough
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    Dave – I’m not familiar with information for Northern Ireland on this matter but the evidence for a lower limit for England and Wales was provided in significant detail in the ‘North Review Report’ published in June last year.

    The story was covered on the RSGB website.

    “Drawing on comprehensive new research commissioned from the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), Sir Peter said that as many as 168 lives – approximately 7% of current road deaths in Britain – could be saved in the first year of a reduced limit, rising to as many as 303 lives saved by the sixth year following any change in the law.”

    James Gibson, Leicestershire
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    Can we please see some EVIDENCE?

    What % of collisions involve motorists that have detectable alcohol (but below the current limit), and what % of motorists have this level on average?

    If the 1st is significantly greater than the 2nd, then we have some evidence but, so far as I’m aware, this has never been investigated.

    What is it about road safety that makes it totally different to every other aspect of safety engineering?

    Dave Finney – Slough
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

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