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Roads: Drink-drive Limit

Volume 776: debated on Thursday 17 November 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they are planning to lower the drink-drive limit in England and Wales.

My Lords, the Government have no plans to lower the drink-drive limit in England and Wales. Our approach in tackling drink-driving is through rigorous enforcement, tough penalties and changing the social acceptability of drink-driving, including through our award-winning THINK! campaigns.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, but the RAC Foundation said last year that 25 lives would have been saved if the limit had been lowered. Police Scotland is about to produce a report on its two-year trial. If the report suggests similar findings, will the Government use that evidence to reduce the limit at the next available opportunity?

We are certainly watching the situation, and the noble Baroness is quite right to raise the issue about Scotland, where the limit has been lowered. We have previously said—indeed, I have said from this Dispatch Box—that we will look at the evidence that is presented from the programme that was initiated in Scotland, we will reflect on that evidence and the experience there and then take forward any reviews that we need to. But let me make it absolutely clear: we currently have no reviews planned; we are not looking to review the limit as it stands.

I am glad to hear that the Minister is resisting pressure to drop the limit further—I think the limit at the moment is well accepted. He will know that most accidents are, in fact, caused by people who are well over the limit and who are likely to ignore any limit. There is another basic reason for not dropping it further, and that is that the social life of rural people would be hugely damaged and it would be the death knell of the rural pub. It is so important that people are able to have a reasonable level of drinking and are able to go out to do so. To destroy that sociability in rural areas—which a lower limit would certainly do—would be a grave mistake.

My noble friend is quite right, and evidence suggests that the programme that the Government currently undertake—emphasising the importance of education—through the THINK! campaign that I alluded to, which is now celebrating more than three decades of implementation, has resulted in responsible attitudes towards drinking and driving. Of course, the general advice is, if you have a drink, resist driving and make alternative arrangements. Before reviewing anything, we need to look at the evidence base. When you look at our record here in England and Wales compared to the rest of Europe, we actually have one of the best road safety records in the whole of the continent.

My Lords, I very much take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Vinson. I live 10 miles into Scotland myself and I was in fact breathalysed at 10.30 am the other day. Much to everybody’s amazement, I did in fact pass. But is it not madness that there is a different limit in Scotland from that in England and Wales?

I am glad to hear that the noble Lord passed the test. I think that the important issue is that there are certain powers that have been devolved and, in that respect, the Scottish Government took a decision to lower the limit. As I have said already, we are looking at the evidence produced from the lowering of that limit but, at the current time, there are no plans to review the limit in England and Wales.

Does the Minister agree that the rollout of drug-detection devices on the roadside illustrates the amount of misuse of recreational drugs and the danger that this can bring to innocent road users, whether they be cyclists, motorists or, indeed, pedestrians?

The noble Lord is right to point out that new drug-driving laws have been introduced. The statistics show that, in 2014, there were about 850 prosecutions. On current estimates, that will rise to about 7,000 by the end of this year. A mixture of measures have been introduced ensuring that laws have been reviewed, education has been increased and enforcement has been applied to ensure that, when someone is found to be over the drink-driving or drug-driving limit, the correct penalties are imposed.

My Lords, as of next year, there will be a different limit not just in Scotland but also in Northern Ireland. Therefore, will my noble friend please outline whether there are any plans to have a United Kingdom-wide public information campaign to ensure that people know that in different parts of the kingdom there are different laws on drink-driving? What consultation has taken place with victims’ groups, because victims of accidents may find that the criminal law takes action against a driver in one part of the country but not in another for very similar behaviour?

My noble friend is right to point to the importance of information and education, to which I have already alluded. As regards consultation and review, I am happy to arrange a briefing session for interested Peers with my honourable friend the Minister for Roads and with experts in this area. I assure noble Lords that this is a government priority. However, we feel that we have the correct balance as regards the limit, enforcement and education. That has resulted in one of the best road safety records in the whole of the continent.

My Lords, what is the difference between the severity of fines and so forth available in respect of mobile phone use and drink-driving respectively, whether or not an accident has ensued? Does the Minister agree that the level of distraction and loss of concentration resulting from the use of mobile phones is probably equivalent to several units of drink?

The noble Baroness is right to point to this concern. Indeed, recently we have, regrettably, seen the effects of people driving while being distracted by the use of mobile phones. The Government are looking at that area very seriously and are looking at strengthening the penalties against using mobile phones while driving. This is another important area of road safety which the Government take very seriously.

My Lords, have the Government considered giving more powers to local authorities and combined authorities to look at the whole business of drink-driving as part of an anti-alcohol policy, and to reduce some of the damage caused by excessive alcohol use in their areas?

I know from my own experience of serving on a local authority that local authorities play an important role in the provision of education and information on campaigns such as the THINK! campaign. I know that many local authorities are directly engaged with that, and it works well. If the noble Baroness has other practical suggestions, I would be happy to reflect on them.

My Lords, given the Government’s commitment to look at the evidence, when they look at the two-year evidence from Scotland, will they consider the impairment of reaction times related not just to alcohol intake but to age? The reaction times of some older people are more impaired than those of some younger people. Will they also look at the death rate among the under-25s?

I know that the noble Baroness has great experience in this regard from the medical perspective, and I assure her that the Government will take full account of all the evidence that is available. Whenever we look at this area, I will certainly ensure that we look at the number of prosecutions and fatalities, as well as their causes, across the country. We are happy to look at all evidence when considering this issue.