Reduce The Drink-Driving Limit, Says The British Medical Association

December 17, 2022

bmaThe British Medical Association (BMA) today called1 on the Government to reduce the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level for driving from 80mg to 50mg per 100ml2. It has been estimated that a reduction to 50mg will prevent around 50 drink-drive-related deaths every year3 in Great Britain.
At the beginning of the New Year, The Road Safety Bill (Great Britain only) is due to have its second reading, and although it contains some positive measures4 to enforce the law, there is no provision to reduce the BAC level.
The BMA urged the Government to use this opportunity to save lives and not leave the drink-driving limit at 80mg. The Association would also like to see the provision in the Bill to allow the police to carry out roadside random breath tests5. This measure is a vital element in deterring people from drinking and driving.

Scientific evidence worldwide has agreed that when a person’s alcohol level is over 50mg, their driving is impaired. Every year drink-driving causes around 560 deaths and 2,820 serious injuries6 in Great Britain.

D.r Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA’s Head of Science and Ethics, said today: “It’s too late to change the law for this Christmas,s but let’s make future seasons of goodwill safer for everyone.
“While the BMA believes that a further reduction in blood alcohol concentration levels will prevent deaths and reduce the number of lives ruined, our overall message to drivers is ‘don’t drink when you drive.’
“The introduction of the current limit, backed up by police enforcement and TV and media education campaigns, led to a dramatic fall in the number of deaths on the road, but over the past few years, deaths and serious injuries from drink-driving have increased. We need a new impetus to reduce the toll of death and injury.”
Mr. Don Mackechnie, Chairman of the BMA’s A&E Committee, added: “The festive season goes hand in hand with eating and drinking too much. I don’t have a problem with this unless driving is involved. But unfortunately, everyone ignores the message,ge that drinking and driving do not mix every Christmas and New Year.
“It is heart-breaking to witness, first hand, families shattered because of drink-driving. Everyone thinks, “It won’t happen to me,” but every Christmas, doctors working in A & E have to go and tell distraught parents that their children have been killed or seriously injured by drivers who continue to drink and drive.”
The BMA is not suggesting a zero limit because there will be cases where an individual would register slightly above zero even when they had not been drinking (diabetes and the use of mouthwash can both cause an above-zero level). The BMA doubts whether an absolute zero would be enforceable and acceptable to the public but argues that a 50mg level, which would bring the UK into line with most other European countries7, would be effective and beneficial.

1 The BMA has been calling for a reduction in the BAC limit since 1990.

2 Currently, the legal limit for BAC for driving is 80 milligrams per 100 milliliters of blood. [Also note that ’80mg to 50mg per 100ml’ equate to 0.08% BAC and 0.05%, respectively — DSA]

3 paragraph 4.19, Tomorrow’s Roads: safer for everyone, Department of Transport, April 2004

4 The Bill gives the Secretary of State powers to require the worst offenders to re-take their driving test. The Bill also amends the current drink-drive rehabilitation scheme to improve take-up. He introduces pilot schemes for alcohol ignition lock devices which require a driver to pass a breath test before the engine starts.
5 The police do not have express powers to carry out targeted breath testing. The police can only test if there has been a road traffic offense, or an accident or if they suspect the driver has been drinking. Random breath testing would enable the police to breathalyze people driving where it is reasonable to assume an amount of drinking may have occurred, e.g., near a pub.

6 Road Casualties in Great Britain 2003: Annual Report, Department for Transport, September 2004

7 The following European countries have limits of 50mg or lower: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden. Cyprus is in the process of reducing it to 50mg. Only UK, Ireland, and Luxembourg remain at 80mg.
Please contact the Press Office for the BMA Parliamentary brief on drink-driving.

For further information contact:
Public Affairs Division
British Medical Association
BMA House
Tavistock Square

Source: British Medical Association