Govt's chief medical officer says drink-driving ban for u21s could save 100 lives a year.

Drivers under 21 should be banned from drinking any alcohol before they get behind the wheel, Britain’s top doctor said yesterday. In his report on the state of the nation’s health, chief medical officer Professor Sir Liam Donaldson said such a move, though unpopular, would save lives.

Transport accidents are the leading cause of death among 16-to-18 year olds, and research shows that young drivers are six times more likely to crash after just one small alcoholic drink.

What’s more, only a third of drivers in their teens and twenties think it is wrong to take to the road after drinking two pints of beer (enough to put most drivers on, or slightly over, the current limit).

More than 1000 teenagers have a drink-drive accident each year, resulting in 100 deaths. If the UK were to adopt a zero limit for under-21 it would fall in line with more than a dozen European countries and some states in the US, Canada and Australia.

Sir Liam says a zero limit would not need a big increase in numbers breathalysed to be effective. His call has sparked mixed responses. While road safety charity Brake welcomed it, the AA was more cautious.

Edmund King, AA president worried that if a separate limit is introduced for young drivers, it could be taken to mean that once they reach 21, it is OK to drink. The RAC’s Sheila Grainger, meanwhile, believes the answer is to enforce existing drink/driving laws more aggressively.

The Government is already considering cutting the legal limit for all drivers from 80mg of alcohol to 50mg, bringing the UK in line with most of Europe.

And Sir Liam’s record of success in seeing his plans become law is impressive. Five years ago he used his yearly report to push for a ban on smoking in public places.

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Stephen Jury


July 15, 2008

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