Motorists face a huge shake-up in drink-driving laws. Lower alcohol limits could mean drinking a pint of beer or a large glass of wine could leave you unfit to drive. And while police officers currently need a reason to stop a motorist, new laws could allow them to stop drivers at random.
Government ministers will review an official report into drink-driving laws which recommends that Britain be brought into line with most other European countries. This would involve cutting the maximum permitted alcohol limit from 80g per 100ml of blood to 50mg, as it is in France and Germany.
Road safety campaigners support the move, arguing that it would prevent up to 65 deaths and up to 230 serious injuries per year.
At present, police patrols can breath-test a driver only if he or she has committed a traffic offence, been involved in an accident or is seen to be driving erratically. But the report proposes that in future officers should be able to stop anyone at any time, even if their driving appears to be perfect.
New drivers may face even tougher alcohol restrictions: there’s a plan to set the limit at 20mg for the first five years that they hold a licence.
The proposals all come from a study carried out by Sir Peter North, an academic commissioned by the Labour government to review existing laws. He has, however, ruled out, a zero alcohol limit for now because he is convinced that the public wouldn’t support it.
The conservatives have in the past opposed moves to toughen drink-drive laws, calling instead for better enforcement of the existing laws. But Transport secretary Philip Hammond will be compelled to take what is a well researched and authoritative review seriously.
The Government will have to weigh the likely economic impact of the changes against the human cost. Critics say a reduction would force many country pubs to lose trade and close, while criminalising thousands of motorists. But it is also reckoned that the change would save hospitals £120m a year by reducing admissions and medical costs.
If the change comes it will be accompanied by a review of the existing penalties. At present a one-year ban and fine are a compulsory minimum. But it is likely that this will be reduced for minor infringements to fine and points on your licence – as it is elsewhere in Europe.