Drink-driving Factsheet

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1 IAS Factsheet 13 Drink-driving Updated May 2013 Drink-driving Factsheet Institute of Alcohol Studies Alliance House 12 Caxton Street London SW1H 0QS Tel: Institute of Alcohol Studies Elmgren House 1 The Quay St Ives Cambridgshire PE27 5AR Tel: Website:

2 Table of contents Drink-driving: Introduction 3 Drink-driving and the law 4 Accidents and casualties 8 Policies to reduce casualties 13

3 Drink-driving: Introduction Drink driving in the UK is defined as the act of driving a motor vehicle (car, truck, etc.) while under the effects of alcohol. Otherwise known as Driving under the Influence [DUI] or Driving While Intoxicated [DWI], it can become a criminal offence when a subject is caught with blood levels of alcohol in excess of a legal limit. The UK s Blood Alcohol Concentration [BAC] limit is 0.8 milligrammes of ethanol per millilitre of blood, as set in the Road Safety Act A conviction for drink driving may not necessarily involve driving the vehicle; you can also be prosecuted in charge of a parked vehicle and/or failing to cooperate with the police in taking a preliminary roadside breath test. As well as being against the law, drink driving in excess has also scientifically been shown to greatly increase the risk of injury to all parties on the road. Despite a steady decline in numbers of drink driving accidents, in the UK each year thousands of people are injured on the roads by drivers who drink. Therefore, measures have been and will continue to be taken by successive Governments to lower the rate of casualties and fatalities for all drivers, riders, passengers and pedestrians. This includes the introduction of policies such as the High Risk Offenders Scheme, a series of state-sponsored anti- drink drive campaigns and proposals to give the police indiscriminate powers to breathalyse all vehicle drivers and riders at the roadside. 3

4 Drink-driving and the law Legal Limits: UK The legal blood alcohol limit for driving is 80 milligrammes of alcohol (80mg) for every 100 millilitres of blood, equivalent to 35 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath, or 107 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of urine. However, prosecution guidelines followed by police services mean that in practice drivers are not normally prosecuted until they reach 40 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath, equivalent to over 90mg. 1 Legal Limits: European Union As of January 2012, the UK has the highest Blood Alcohol Concentration [BAC] limit for motorcar drivers out of all 27 Member States, a figure matched only by Malta. 2 Figure 1 displays a list of BAC limits for EU countries, expressed in milligrammes of ethanol per millilitre of blood. Figure 1: Legal BAC limits in the 27 EU Member States Source: The European Transport Safety Council [ETSC] (April 2012), 'Drink driving: Towards zero tolerance', Table 1, p. 13 4

5 Offences Under the Road Traffic Act 1988, the following acts are deemed illegal and are given the following penalties: Figure 2: Drink driving Offences Source: Drinkdriving.org, 'UK drink driving law' Offence codes DR10 to DR30 must stay on a driving licence for eleven years from date of conviction. Offence codes DR40 to DR70 must stay on a driving licence for four years from date of offence. Under the amendments made to the Act in 1991, a drink-driver may be prosecuted in the event of a fatality arising from a motoring accident. These offences are given the CD code, which stands for 'Careless Driving'. Current legislation contains provision for serious, including repeat, drink-drive offenders to be made to retake the driving test at the end of their period of disqualification, courtesy of the Road Safety Act It also makes provision for the courts, when imposing disqualification as a penalty, to order a reduced period of disqualification if it also makes an order requiring the offender to comply with the conditions of an alcohol ignition interlock programme. According to the latest annual data from the Ministry of Justice, the number of driving offences committed under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs in England and Wales was estimated to be 54,936 in 2011, down from 58,721 the year before. 5

6 Figure 3: Findings of guilt for offences of driving etc., after consuming alcohol or taking drugs by offence type, age group and sex of offender Source: The Ministry of Justice (November 2012), 'Criminal Justice Statistics in England and Wales', adapted from Volume 6 Motoring, S6.14 and S6.16 The most common offence driving with alcohol in the blood above the prescribed limit accounted for at least 9 out of every 10 drink and drug driving convictions (50,051). Young drivers classified as those between the ages of 17 and 30 committed the most number of offences (22,536). The fewest drink and drug driving convictions of people of driving age occurred in the 60 and over age group (2,811). Men committed 45,754 offences in 2011, accounting for 83% of all convictions. A recent Parliamentary question to the Secretary of State for Justice asked how many people have been convicted of offences of drink-driving in each of the last 5 years (see Figure 4). 3 In 2011, 50,622 people were proceeded against at magistrates courts on the charge of drink-driving in England and Wales; of these, 48,883 were found guilty, a conviction rate of 97%. The conviction rate has remained constant over the last 5 years. Both the number of people proceeded against and those found guilty has fallen every year since 2007, and by a third [32%] over the period. 6

7 Figure 4: Proceeded against and found guilty at all courts for drink-driving offences, England and Wales, 2007 to 2011 Source: (April 2013), 'HC Deb, c1298w', Justice: Driving Under Influence 1 The Crown Prosecution Service, 'Drink driving offences' 2 The European Transport Safety Council [ETSC] (April 2012), 'Drink driving: Towards zero tolerance', Table 1, p (April 2013), 'HC Deb, c1298w', Justice: Driving Under Influence 7

8 Accidents and casualties According to the most recent Department for Transport [DfT] provisional figures [2011; see Figure 5], a total of 256,101 drivers/riders were reported to have been involved in injury road accidents. This figure is 34% lower than the total number of drivers/riders involved in 2002 [390,479]. Just over half of those involved [54%] were required to take a breath test. This ratio (of requested breath tests to reported accidents) has remained constant for the last decade. In 2002, 8,104 drivers/riders were deemed to have either failed to take the test or reported above limit levels of alcohol in their bloodstream. This represented 4.1% of all tests requested that year [196,253]. In 2011, 46% fewer failures occurred [4,366] among drivers/riders. This represents 3.1% of all tests requested that year, 1 percentage point lower than in Figure 5: Drivers and riders in injury road accidents: breath tests and failures, Great Britain, 2002 to 2011 Source: Department for Transport (November 2012), 'Statistical data set RAS51 Reported drinking and driving' The highest rate of failure for drivers/riders involved in a road accident as a proportion of those tested occurred among those in their 20s. Almost 5% [1,655] of the 33,730 motor vehicle drivers/riders aged years failed a breath test; this includes those who refused to take one. The lowest rate of failure occurred among elderly drivers/riders. Just over 1% [215] of the 17,513 drivers/riders aged 60 years of age and over failed a breath test. 8

9 Figure 6: Reported breath tests and breath test failures by road user type and age, Great Britain, latest available year Source: Department for Transport (November 2012), 'Statistical data set RAS51 Reported drinking and driving' There has been an overall downward trend in the number of reported drink-drive accidents and casualties since the introduction of the 1988 Road Traffic Act (see Figure 7). Provisional DfT statistics show that in 2011 there were 6,730 reported personal injury road accidents in which at least one driver/rider involved had exceeded the legal alcohol limit. This is fewer than half the number of accidents that occurred in the year when the Act was introduced [14,520]. The figures for casualties of the same type tell a similar tale. In 2011, there were 9,990 reported casualties resulting from incidents in which at least one driver/rider involved had exceeded the legal alcohol limit. This means that there were 57% fewer casualties in 2011 than there were in 1988 [22,740]. In 2010, both accidents and casualties reached their lowest level since the introduction of the UK Road Traffic Act in

10 Figure 7: Estimated number of drink-drive accidents and casualties in Great Britain, 1988 to 2011 Source: Department for Transport (November 2012), 'Statistical data set RAS51 Reported drinking and driving' Figure 8 shows that there were an estimated 260 fatal drink-drive accidents in 2011, from which 280 people died, representing 15% of all road fatalities. 1 It marks a rise on the previous year an additional 30 deaths occurred compared to 2010 the first increase in deaths since The proportion of drink-drive road accidents in relation to total road accidents has remained constant between 2000 and 2011 (14% 18%). 10

11 Figure 8: The number of drink-drive road accident fatalities in relation to the total number of road accident fatalities Source: Department for Transport (November 2012), adapted from 'Table RAS30060' and 'Reported Road Casualties in Great Britain: 2011 Annual Report' The most recent DfT figures on the proportion of killed drivers/riders resulting from reported accidents in each Blood Alcohol Concentration category (see Figure 9) show that in 2010, people aged 60 years or over had the highest proportion of killed drivers/riders with no alcohol present in their blood [91%] and the lowest proportion of killed drivers/riders over the legal alcohol limit [3%]. In contrast, 25 to 29 year-olds had the lowest proportion of killed drivers with no alcohol present [64%] and the highest proportion of killed drivers/riders over the legal alcohol limit [31%]. Overall, almost two thirds of drivers/riders killed, exceeding the legal alcohol limit, were over twice the alcohol limit [over 160mg/100ml]. 2 11

12 Figure 9: Proportion of all killed drivers/riders resulting from reported accidents in each BAC category, by age: GB 2010 Source: Department for Transport (September 2012), 'Reported road casualties in Great Britain: 2011 annual report' 1 Department for Transport (September 2012), Drinking and driving, in 'Reported road casualties in Great Britain: 2011 annual report', p. 1 2 Department for Transport, Drinking and driving, in 'Reported road casualties in Great Britain: 2011 annual report', p. 4 12

13 Campaigns and advertising Policies to reduce casualties Since the introduction of breath testing in 1967, successive governments have tried to promote a strong anti drink-drive message as part of a sustained effort to reduce the number of casualties on UK roads every year. Department for Transport officials believe advertising campaigns are effective in reducing the rate of road casualties. They point to a large drop in 1987 when the slant of the slogans and advertising shifted from warnings about getting caught to an emphasis on the fact that drivers who drink endanger lives; i.e. the Drinking and Driving Wrecks Lives slogan. There have been variations on this theme ever since, including in 1992 a television advert that could only be broadcast after the 9pm watershed, showing a girl lying on the pavement covered with blood. These campaigns are targeted primarily at young men in their late twenties who are overrepresented in accidents. To date, the publicity campaign is believed to have been effective. However, it is difficult to isolate the effect of publicity from the other measures introduced over the same period such as tougher laws and higher levels of enforcement. Targeting High Risk Offenders First introduced in 1983, the High Risk Offenders Scheme [HRO] is specifically aimed at convicted drink-drivers who may have a drinking problem. After their period of disqualification, high risk offenders' licences are returned only if they can convince a court that they do not have or have overcome a drink problem. In order to do this, they must pass a medical examination by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency [DVLA], which will assess the driver's fitness to drive. If there is evidence of persistent misuse within the past 6 months, then a licence is refused. High Risk Offenders are drivers who: 1 have been found to be over 2½ times the legal limit have 2 convictions for being either unfit to drive because of drink or for exceeding the legal limit within a 10-year period, or have been disqualified from driving for refusing to provide a sample for testing. Since 2000, some people convicted of drink-driving may be offered rehabilitation courses at the discretion of a magistrate or judge, where they will be taught about the effects of alcohol on driving ability. 2 The course is optional and is paid for by the offender. * Sir Peter North s independent review of the law on drink and drug driving in Great Britain lists High Risk Offenders schemes among its list of recommended changes, stating that it should continue to operate in respect of repeat offenders. 3 Roadside testing In the First Report Session of the House of Commons Transport Select * More information on drink drive rehabilitation courses is provided courtesy of the Driving Standards Agency. 13

14 Committee inquiry into Drink and Drug Driving Law, it was suggested that in order to reduce casualties, the police must be given indiscriminate powers to breathalyse all vehicle drivers and riders. The Association of Chief Police Officers [ACPO] believes that the increased likelihood of being tested at the roadside will deter potential drink-drivers from taking the risk of being caught. Under current legislation, the police have a general power under Section 163 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 to stop any vehicle at any time, but there must be reasonable suspicion that the driver either has alcohol in their body, been involved in an accident, or committed a traffic offence, in order to proceed with a preliminary test for the substance s presence. 4 In a memo response to the session, the ACPO supported North s recommendation to amend the Act to give police a general and unrestricted power to stop and breath test drivers in effect, to allow random breath testing for the reason that it: would support targeted checkpoint testing of drink drivers carried out now is [sic] some areas but requiring an element of consent... we believe that this simple measure, widely publicised, would increase the perception in the minds of drivers that if they do drink and drive they are likely to be caught and brought to justice at any time, anywhere. 5 When questioned by the Select Committee, DCC Briggs representing the ACPO Roads Policing Business Area insisted that random testing would be the right way for the police to develop their intelligence-led tactics and therefore improve road safety. 6 A lower legal limit? As stated in a previous chapter, the legal BAC limit in the UK is noticeably higher than most fellow European Union Member States, at 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, compared to 50mg on the continent. In 2001, the European Commission made a Recommendation that all Member States should adopt a legal maximum BAC limit of 0.5mg/ml, or lower, for drivers and riders of all motorised vehicles years on, the European Parliament asked the Commission to prepare proposals for an EU-wide harmonised blood alcohol limit, including a 0.0g/l limit for novice and professional drivers, in line with the original recommendation. 8 However, to date, the UK and Malta remain the only EU countries with BAC limits over the 0.5mg/ml recommended value. 9 This discrepancy between the UK and other Member States has become a major focus point of the debate on drink-driving law. Those in favour of lowering the limit in the UK point to the increased risks of driving under the influence of alcohol present in the bloodstream. Findings published by the NICE Centre for Public Health and Excellence indicated that: Drivers with a BAC of between 0.02 and 0.05 have at least a three times greater risk of dying in a vehicle crash. This risk increases to at least six times with a BAC between 0.05 and Police figures indicate that 2% of drivers breath tested following a collision produce a result in the 50mg to 80mg range. Therefore, lowering the BAC limit would aim to deter those drivers from drinking before getting behind the wheel. The ACPO claim there is some 14

15 evidence to show that a reduction in the limit to 50mg per 100ml would save 64 lives a year. 11 However, the RAC were unconvinced that a reduction would encourage a behavioural change among drink-drivers who have BAC levels in excess of the current limit. In their written response to the inquiry, the organisation stated that the 1% of offenders caught above the current drink-driving threshold are found to be so significantly above 80mg, that any change in law is not expected to have an impact. 12 The implication of this is that for those drivers, the reasons for their excesses may not be related to an understanding of the law. Representatives of the pub, restaurant and hospitality industries (including individual landlords) also expressed reservations about lowering the drink-drive limit, claiming that a 50mg/100ml BAC limit could have especially serious consequences for businesses in rural and semi-rural locations. The British Beer and Pub Association [BBPA] estimated that a lower 50mg/100ml limit could lead to the closure of 1,500 pubs and the loss of 9,000 jobs. 13 North was not persuaded by these arguments. A 50mg/100ml limit, he said, would still allow the responsible driver who wishes to enjoy a drink to accompany their pub meal or have a glass of wine or a pint of beer to do so without being in danger of breaking the law. North was not convinced that reducing the blood alcohol limit to 50mg/100ml would, in itself, have a widespread detrimental impact on the sector. 14 The Effectively Zero argument Some campaigners including road safety charity BRAKE called for a 20mg per 100ml limit, arguing that it would effectively reduce the level of alcohol consumption before driving to zero, whereas a 50mg per 100ml limit would send mixed messages to the public. 15 However, the North Review rejected doing so, for 3 main reasons: 1. a lack of evidence that drivers with a BAC of between 20mg/100ml and 50mg/100ml were a problem group in terms of casualties 2. it would risk alienating public support for drink drive legislation, and 3. milder penalties than the current minimum 12 month mandatory disqualification would have to be in place at this level, which could dilute the effectiveness of the current regime The Government s most recent response to policy recommendations Sir Peter North s report into drink and drug driving law recommended the current prescribed blood alcohol limit in section 11(2) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 of 80 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood be reduced to 50 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood and the equivalent amounts in breath and urine, citing both accordance with the public mood and strong and widespread support from the majority of consultees to the Review. 16 But in its response to both the North Review and the Transport Select Committee reports, the current Coalition Government rejected the headline proposal, on the grounds that as an interim measure, it was not cost-effective and would send out a mixed message with 15

16 the Government s official advice to not drink and drive at all. An effectively zero limit of 20mg/100ml was seen as too great a step at this stage. 17 The Government instead concluded that improving enforcement was likely to have a greater impact on the most dangerous drink-drivers. 1 VMCL Ltd, 'High Risk Offender Scheme' 2 Department for Transport (2004), 'Rehabilitation courses for drink-drive offenders' 3 North, Peter [Sir] (June 2010), 'Report of the Review of drink and drug driving law', p 'Road Traffic Act 1988: Section 163' 5 House of Commons Transport Committee (December 2010), Memorandum from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) (DDD 11), in 'Drink and drug driving law: First Report of Session : Volume I (HC 460)', Ev 56 6 Transport Committee, Examination of Witnesses (Questions ) in 'Drink and drug driving law' 7 Official Journal of the European Communities, 'Commission Recommendation of 17 January 2001 on the maximum permitted blood alcohol content (BAC) for drivers of motorised vehicles', (January 2001), L 43/32 8 ETSC, 'Drink driving: Towards zero tolerance', p ETSC, p Centre for Public Health Excellence NICE (March 2010), 'Review of effectiveness of laws limiting blood alcohol concentration levels to reduce alcohol-related road injuries and deaths, Final report', p Transport Committee, 'Drink and drug driving law', Ev North, 'Report of the Review of drink and drug driving law', Ev Transport Committee, Ev North, p Transport Committee, p North, p Secretary of State for Transport (March 2011), 'The Government's response to the reports by Sir Peter North CBE QC and the Transport Select Committee on drink and drug driving', p. 3 16

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