"DRINKING AND DRIVING" SESSION
2001-02 24TH REPORT
Letter from David Jamieson, Parliamentary
Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport to the Chairman
I am writing in response to your Committee's
report of its inquiry into drinking and driving, dated 2 July
2002 (HL Paper 140).
I would like to thank the Committee for this
report and for taking the trouble to revisit this subject after
the 1998 inquiry. I think we can agree on the importance of this
matter for road safety even if we are not totally in agreement
about the remedies.
I would like to make a few comments in response
to the views expressed by the Committee in paragraphs 41-52 and,
of course, the recommendation at paragraph 51.
As the report acknowledges, the UK has been
very successful in tackling drinking and driving over the last
two decades and our record in reducing deaths and serious injuries
stands comparison with any other EU Member State (paragraph 45).
However, we are conscious that there is still a great deal of
work to do if we are to eradicate the problem, and that is one
of the purposes of the measures set out in our 10-year Road Safety
Regarding the estimates of casualty savings
in our consultation document, I was certainly not trying to undermine
them and I am sorry if the Committee got that impression. But
these are no more than estimates and lowering the limit would
not guarantee delivery of those savings. It is also worth noting
that the results from research based on experiences in other countries
where legal limits have been changed are likely to have been affected
by the influence of other anti-drink-driving measures. In most
cases it appeared that underlying trends and concurrent factors,
such as publicity and enforcement policy, were not always measured.
This is not to deny that the package of measures had beneficial
effects, but it explains why it is difficult to apportion these
effects to each of the contributory factors.
We have also seen a further report by the Canadian
Traffic Injury Research Foundation "The safety impact of
lowering the BAC limit for drivers in Canada" (May 2002).
The main purpose of this report was to provide a critical review
of research studies that have evaluated the road safety impact
of lowering the limit, with particular emphasis on change from
80 to 50mg. This includes research carried out in the USA, Sweden
and Australia. The report concluded that its review of evaluation
literature "failed to provide strong, consistent and unqualified
support for lowering BAC limits. At best, the results are mixed
and the methodological weaknesses in the studies raise questions
about the robustness and veracity of the evidence."
These findings reinforce the Government's view
that the benefits of lowering the limit are by no means clear-cut.
In the light of such uncertainty, we think it right to be cautious
about reducing the limit in this country and to concentrate on
other measures to bring down drink-related casualty totals.
The Government shares the Committee's view that
the ultimate objective should be to persuade the public not to
drink at all when driving. This has been the central aim of drink-driving
policy for many years and has underpinned every one of our national
publicity campaigns. We do, however, have some difficulty with
the Committee's conclusion at paragraph 44 about the level of
penalties in relation to the BAC limit.
Penalties for road traffic offences are a key
element in the enforcement of drink-drive laws. I would like to
reiterate what I said in my evidence about the difficulties we
see in combining a reduction in the limit to 50mg with our current
penalty regime. As the Committee noted, penalties in this country
are far more severe for exceeding the 80mg limit than in other
EU countries. Most countries with a lower legal limit impose only
minor penalties at the lower alcohol levels, and imprisonment
and licence removal are not generally available below alcohol
levels of 100mg or more.
Applying our penalties at a 50mg level would
put us further out of line with Europe in terms of sanctions.
It could be regarded as unduly harsh and, critically, is unlikely
to command as much respect from the motoring public. The alternative
of adopting a system of lesser penalties at the lower alcohol
level, as in other EU states, could create the unfortunate impression
that the Government is willing to regard some levels of drink-driving
as more acceptable than others. We also have concerns about whether
lower level penalties will have any real effect on offending rates.
I hope with these comments I have covered the
main points raised by the Committee. It is clear that your Committee
continues to share the Government's view that the best way to
reduce drink-driving and minimise drink-related casualties is
through a combination of measures. It is only on the level of
the BAC legal limit that we appear to disagree. I appreciate,
nevertheless, that you have significant reservations about the
Government's decision not to reduce the limit in line with the
Since the publication of the Committee's report,
this Department has issued provisional figures for drink-related
accidents in 2001 (Road Accidents Great Britain: 2001, TSO, September
2002). It is encouraging to see that fatalities (480) and serious
injuries (2,410) are down, following increases in 2000, but disappointing
that the overall casualty total is up. But these figures are still
unacceptable, and we will continue to keep the pressure on drink-drivers.
If the further measures we have proposed do not have the desired
effect, it will be necessary to review our drink-drive strategy.
10 December 2002
Letter from the Chairman to Mr David Jamieson
MP, Department for Transport
Thank you for your letter dated 10 December
which we take to be the formal Government response to the follow-up
to our 1998 report. This
letter was considered by Sub-Committee B at its meeting on 13
As we stressed throughout this short inquiry,
the position we arrived at in Drinking and Driving was
based, primarily, on the work already undertaken in the original
inquiry into blood alcohol levels for drivers.
We note that there are areas where we have failed
to persuade the Government to make changes. Like you, we support
the package approach, but we do not think this excludes a lower
limit. We were also aware of the Canadian inquiry which suggested
that the methodology of existing evaluation literature might not
be as failsafe as its supporters claimed.
You have our views, too, on the question of
penalties in which we reiterated the decision that our predecessors
had arrived at in 1998.
One of the elements which we found particularly
telling was the contention that driver impairment began at levels
as low as 50mg/100ml. You do not comment on this.
We recognise that on the question of the BAC legal
limit, we must disagree. Our disagreement with you on this particular
point does not mean that we are not conscious of the very valuable
work your Department does in trying to continue to bring down
the number of casualties from road accidents. It is saddening
to learn that in 2001 the total number of casualties rose, but
heartening to see that the number of fatalities and serious injuries
fell. However, the report in the Daily Express of 9 January
2003 that drink driving offences over the Christmas and New Year
2002-03 were the worst for five years, reinforces our view that
the Government should review the legal limit.
15 January 2003
Letter from David Jamieson Parliamentary
Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport to the Chairman
Thank you for your letter of 15 January replying
to mine of 10 December 2002 in which I set out the Government's
response to your Committee's report.
I am grateful to you for notifying me of the
Committee's reaction to those comments. I regret that I have been
unable to convince the Committee of the Government's position
on the BAC legal limit, but understand why you continue to have
significant reservations about our decision not to lower it. As
you say, it seems that we will have to disagree on this question
and on the linked issue of appropriate penalties for a lower limit.
It is clear, however, that we agree about the
importance of reducing drink-drive casualties to the minimum possible
and, if possible, of eliminating drinking and driving altogether.
To that end, the Government intends to keep the pressure on drink-drivers
by further, high-profile publicity campaigns, the continued expansion
of the drink-drive rehabilitation scheme and the development of
our proposals for enhanced police powers and penalties for drink-drive
I can however assure you that I will be studying
the next set of annual drink-drive casualty and breathtesting
figures very closely when they become available later in the year.
10 February 2003
7 Drinking and Driving (24th Report, Session 2001-02,
HL Paper 140) Back
Blood Alcohol Levels for Drivers (16th Report, Session 1997-98,
HL Paper 82) Back