Select Committee on European Communities Sixteenth Report



  60.    DETR said that it was very difficult to prove the effectiveness of publicity campaigns but believed them to be effective. "If you stop doing them people believe that you are no longer serious about it" (Q 33). The RAC proposed year-round anti-drink driving campaigns supported by the motoring organisations (p 120).

  61.    The BMA said that the introduction of a 50mg/100ml limit would have to be accompanied by education that stressed the importance of the "morning after" issue-about not drinking heavily and then expecting to have an acceptable level of BAC within a day (Q 101). RoSPA suggested that the processes by which alcohol is assimilated and eliminated are not well understood by the public (Q 118). Commissioner Kinnock said that it was the view of working police officers that the legal limit assists with the whole process of enforcement and education (Q 317).

  62.    Superintendent Rowe stated his strong view that it is not possible to give advice to people on what is or is not a safe consumption of alcohol (Q 230). He had mixed views about self-testing (Q 236).

Ignition interlock devices and home breathalysers

  63.    It is possible for drivers to fit BAIIDs voluntarily to their vehicle as a means of ensuring that they do not drive with a BAC above the legal limit. ACPO stated that they would be cautious about endorsing such devices as they would be "open to abuse" and would "encourage the notion that one can drink and drive" (Q 81). They also expressed grave reservations as to whether the device would continue to work over a long period of time (Q 82). DETR believed that further evidence from the Canadian trials was necessary before reaching a conclusion as to their effectiveness. The role of BAIIDs as a standard item in a car was "very much a future matter" (Q 40).

  64.    RoSPA suggested that reports on BAIIDs were favourable "if introduced as a condition of restoration of a suspended driving licence or allowing the driver to keep the licence", and support a feasibility study of BAIIDs[24]. Superintendent Rowe considered that there was scope for the use of BAIIDs as part of a managed treatment programme for offenders "under very controlled circumstances and accountable" (Q 243).

  65.    Home breathalysers are widely available in many other Member States.



  66.    Most witnesses agreed that driving is impaired at BACs below 80mg/100ml. The Commission pointed out that drivers' reaction times increase and their ability to process information decreases at BACs as low as 50mg/100ml (COM(88) 707). ACPO summarised research findings by saying that "about the only unqualified statement that can safely be made about the effects of alcohol is that when a sufficient quantity has been absorbed it often impairs performance"[25].

  67.    The BMA quoted a review of experimental studies which tended to suggest that low levels of alcohol can cause significant impairment in skills used in driving "to the extent that driving safety is compromised"[26]. The BMA also said that there was considerable evidence that people who have been drinking lose certain social inhibitions resulting in, for example, the drinking driver being more likely to speed (Q 93).

Estimated effect on accidents and casualties

  68.    Over the past decade, between two and three per cent of fatally-injured drivers in Great Britain had BACs within the 50-80mg/100ml range. By contrast, in 1995, 19 per cent of fatally-injured drivers had BACs in excess of 100mg/100ml and 14 per cent were in excess of 150mg/100ml. The Commission, quoting the results of the Grand Rapids study[27], stated that, for the young driver and infrequent drinker, the risk of accident increases sharply at low BAC levels (COM(88) 707).

Experience from other jurisdictions

  69.    The effects of reducing the legal limit in various other jurisdictions were quoted widely. However, as the Minister and DETR pointed out, the effects of a change in the legal limit have usually been confounded by other factors, such as increased publicity and increased enforcement, which were introduced concurrently (QQ 8, 256).

  70.    In France, the reduction in the legal limit to 50mg/100ml resulted in a fall of four per cent in the number of fatalities (Q 289). An initial analysis of blood samples from accident victims suggested that the law had had an impact on alcohol levels within the 50-80mg/100ml range but not on levels above 80mg/100ml[28]. In Belgium, where the limit was reduced in December 1994, a reduction of nearly 10 per cent in fatal and serious casualties was observed in 1995 and a further 11 per cent reduction in 1996 (Q 288). Early indications suggested, however, that the lower limit had not yet resulted in either lower BACs of car drivers nor a reduction in alcohol-related accidents[29]. The change in the legal limit from 50 to 20mg/100ml in Sweden in 1990 led to a ten per cent reduction in fatal crashes. An estimated third of this reduction could be attributed to the fact that fewer young drivers were on the road "because of the economic recession that started around 1990" (Q 372).

  71.    The positive effect of the reduction in Queensland in 1982 was cited by several witnesses[30]. The European Transport Safety Council stated that the Australian Capital Territory, which reduced its limit to 50mg/100ml in 1991, experienced a 90 per cent reduction in driving with BACs between 50 and 80mg/100ml and a 41 per cent reduction in the incidence of driving with BACs greater than 150mg/100ml (p 112)[31]. However, DETR pointed out that the population was atypical-it is generally inhabited by civil servants-and therefore the effects may not be comparable (Q 10).

  72.    The effects of the reduction from 80 to 50mg/100ml in both New South Wales in 1980 and South Australia in 1991 were cited by several witnesses: "they have managed to keep the numbers going down until very recently when there has been a slight upturn in the ... percentage of drivers who were killed" (DETR, QQ 8-9). IAS cited evidence from the United States which found that States which reduced their legal limits from 100mg to 80mg/100ml experienced reductions in fatal accidents of drivers with BACs of over 80mg/100ml and 100mg/100ml (p 113).

Views on a lower limit

  73.    None of the witnesses suggested that lowering the limit would, by itself, achieve a significant reduction in injuries and accidents. Only ACPO were prepared to quantify the likely reduction-"12-13 per cent fewer collisions"-but they, like most other witnesses, believed that a package of countermeasures was required (Q 46). The Minister summed up this general view when he said that the problem of reducing alcohol-related casualties was certainly not as simple as just lowering the limit (Q 257).

  74.    The Medical Commission on Accident Prevention were opposed to lowering the legal limit, at least as a priority measure, arguing that other measures were likely to be more effective (p 115). This view was supported by several other witnesses[32]. The Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association pointed out that lowering the BAC limit is not a cost free option as "it threatens ... jobs created directly and indirectly in community, suburban and rural pubs, which will often not be well served by public transport" (p 108). The Portman Group similarly suggested that only when a package of measures including penalties aimed particularly at HROs had been tried and tested would it be logical to consider a lower BAC limit (p 118).

Level at which a lower limit could be set

  75.    Most witnesses who favoured a lowering of the limit suggested that the new limit should be 50mg/100ml[33]. Superintendent Rowe did not recommend a 20mg/100ml limit although he commented that many of his colleagues believed that it would be the answer. His objection to a limit of 20mg/100ml stemmed from his view that "apart from other reasons the ability of the British people to go out and enjoy a pint of beer is something quite enshrined in our history and something we enjoy doing" (Q 234). The BMA were sceptical of the scientific evidence to show that 20mg/100ml was a valid cut-off point (Q 100). Mr Laurell stated "I do not consider 20mg/100ml to be an effective zero because it accommodates some drinking" (Q 338).

  76.    Several witnesses supported the introduction of an effective zero BAC limit for drivers. CADD stated that they had always campaigned for a zero limit with a 20mg/100ml tolerance (p 110). RoSPA suggested a 20mg/100ml limit as a second stage measure (after the introduction of a 50mg/100ml limit) "so that there would be no doubt in the public mind whatever that drinking and driving is not permitted" (Q 133). Mr Laurell, however, did not regard 20mg/100ml to be an effective zero limit and suggested a zero limit with a 15mg/100ml safety margin (Q 340).

Lower limits for some drivers

  77.    Some jurisdictions have a separate lower legal alcohol limit for certain categories of drivers. PACTS quoted evidence showing that the drink-drive accidents per 100 million vehicle-miles are highest for the younger age groups (under 19) and then decline rapidly (Q 93)[34]. IAS proposed a lower limit for new drivers of 20mg/100ml (p 114). The BMA suggested that young people tend not to drink and drive because they consider it to be wrong whereas older people, by contrast, tend not to do it because there is a law against it (Q 104). Commissioner Kinnock did not believe that it would be possible to introduce legislation that was age-geared (Q 289).

Public Opinion

  78.    Public opinion surveys quoted by the AA and the RAC suggested that anywhere between a third and three-quarters of drivers were in favour of a 50mg/100ml limit (pp 102, 119)[35]. In both surveys, however, 58 per cent of drivers believed that a reduction in the legal limit would not necessarily reduce the incidence of drink driving (pp 102, 121).


  79.    When the Committee considered the draft Directive in 1989, we took the view that the matter was not one within the Community's competence acting under Article 75 of the EEC Treaty. An important change was made by the Treaty on European Union (Maastricht Treaty), and Article 75 now empowers the Council to lay down "measures to improve transport safety". Commissioner Kinnock said that "there is no question about competence in the Community as far as this issue is concerned", although he accepted that the Community's competence was not exclusive (Q 283).

  80.    The Minister acknowledged that "there is no question in our view that there is competence here, that the European Union could choose to enact a Directive in this area" (Q 251). The House of Commons Select Committee on European Legislation concluded in 1995 that the Community has competence to legislate on drink drive limits, though it has not done so, and that "in the meantime, Member States are free to set their own limits"[36].


  81.    Article 3b of the Maastricht Treaty provides that for Community action to be justified, the Council must be satisfied that the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by Member States' action and that they can, therefore, be better achieved by action on the part of the Community. Assuming the Commission will re-table the proposed Directive it will, in accordance with the Edinburgh Guidelines[37], have to justify the proposal's compliance with the principle of subsidiarity.

  82.    The Government suggested that "there is no doubt that there is a very real subsidiarity issue here" (Q 251). In response, Commissioner Kinnock said, "my argument for trying to secure a general reduction in tolerable limits of blood alcohol content is to do with the merit of the idea itself. In saying that, I am not trying to escape the constitutional discussion or argument about subsidiarity. I am saying that there can be benefits from the general appreciation of a rule across the European Union, in other words harmonisation, but the fundamental merit of this measure is to ensure that there is a general application of lower tolerated levels of blood alcohol content" (Q 284).

  83.    Under the Edinburgh guidelines, and in future the Protocol to the Amsterdam Treaty, the Commission would have to demonstrate, inter alia, that the issue "has transnational aspects which cannot satisfactorily be requested by action of Member States" and that "action at Community level would produce clear benefits by reason of its scale or effects compared with action at the level of the Member States".

Harmonising the legal limit at 50mg/100ml

  84.    Commissioner Kinnock believed that harmonising the limit at 50mg/100ml would help develop a safety consciousness as part of the road safety programme. "We must try to get more people to join the huge majority that already understand that mixing drink with driving is dangerous. So there is a psychological purpose. In addition, the message conveyed by a European standard ... cancels the idea that there are democracies that will tolerate a higher level because they think it is okay" (Q 287).

24   Drinking and Driving, a background paper by the National Road Safety Committee, RoSPA, 1996. Back

25   Driving Home The Limit: The Case for 50, A report on the findings of scientific research of alcohol impaired driver performance conducted by the Policy Research Unit, Strathclyde, 1996. Back

26   Driving Impairment Through Alcohol and Other Drugs, BMA, 1996. Back

27   Borkenstein R F, Crowther R F, Shumate W B and Zylman R (1964). The role of the drinking driver in traffic accidents. Bloomington Illinois; Indiana University, Department of Police Administration. Revised edition published in Blutalkohol, 1974, 11, Supplement I, 1-131. Back

28   Clayton, A B (1996). Which Way Forward? London: The Portman Group. Back

29   European Transport Safety Council (1997). ETSC update: reducing injuries from drinking and driving. Brussels: ETSC Special Report, April 1997. Back

30   See CADD (p 109), DETR (Q 9), The European Transport Safety Council (p 112) and PACTS (p 21). Back

31   See also IAS (p 113) and The Portman Group (p 117). Back

32   The AA (p 104), the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association (pp 107-8), The Portman Group (p 118) and the RAC (p 120). Back

33   This view was supported by the AA (p 104), ACPO (p 12), BMA (p 20), ETSC (p 111), IAS (p 112), LARSOA (p 115), PACTS (p 22) and RoSPA (Q 111). Back

34   Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (1997). Road accidents Great Britain 1996: The Casualty Report. London: TSO. Back

35   See also Q 104. Back

36   House of Commons Select Committee on European Legislation, 20th Report (1994-95): The United Kingdom and the Community: Who makes the law on road safety? (HC 323), paragraph 60. Back

37   Or, if then in force, the Protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality to the Amsterdam Treaty. Back

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