A crushing punishment for recidivist drink-drivers

The Government’s response to the North Report on Drink and Drug Driving was published this week, and sets out a raft of new measures to tackle the problem.

In 2009, 380 people were killed and a further 11,610 were injured in drink-drive accidents on our roads.

There were 53 fatalities and 1,007 other casualties in reported road accidents in which impairment due to illicit or medicinal drugs was recorded among the contributory factors – although the true casualty figures are likely to be higher.

More worrying, though, was the number of motorists who received at least their second ban for driving under the influence of alcohol in 2009: a shocking 19,605 motorists. The problem of recidivism seems to be worsening – 13,299 motorists were banned in 2000 for a second (or third or fourth) time.

Nearly one in four motorists banned for drink or drug driving will have at least one previous conviction for the same offence. It appears that the message is not getting through to a hardcore section of society who shows flagrant disregard for the safety and wellbeing of other road users.

As part of the new measures, the Department for Transport hinted that it may follow the example of Scotland when it comes to tackling the problem of drink and drug driving. Serial offenders could have their cars seized and crushed.

The reasoning behind this is twofold: firstly, it removes the temptation and opportunity for banned drivers to blithely carry on; secondly, it impacts on other family members, putting more pressure on offenders to change their behaviour.

Other new measures to be introduced to tackle drink driving include: streamlining procedures and closing loopholes to make it easier to conduct breath tests at the roadside and in police stations; improving testing equipment; and more robust drink-drive rehabilitation schemes.

This means that people who are a little over the limit will no longer be able to ask for a blood test, thus giving them time to sober up enough to pass it. It is hoped that improved testing equipment will remove any doubt with borderline cases.

As the figures on reoffending show, the current punishments do not seem to be working, so we at RoSPA welcome more robust rehabilitation schemes. In this, as everything, education seems to be key.

On the subject of drug driving, the Government will examine the case for a new specific drug-driving offence – alongside the existing one – which would remove the need for the police to prove impairment on a case-by-case basis where a specified drug has been detected. In addition, preliminary drug-testing equipment will be approved, and procedures will be streamlined.

Drug driving is very much a “hidden” problem. With legitimate medicines, side-effects are often ill-understood and not explained clearly enough; whereas with driving under the influence of illegal drugs, the fact of their illegality means that access to facts and figures is limited. We hope that these new measures will begin to shed some light on the problem, and enable road safety professionals and lawmakers to begin to solve it.

RoSPA welcomes all the new measures set out in the Government’s response to the North Report – but they don’t go far enough.

For many years now, we have called for the drink-drive limit to be reduced from the current 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood to 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. This move was also recommended by Sir Peter North when he wrote his report following an independent review of the law.

Any alcohol impairs drivers to a greater or lesser extent, and lowering the limit would reinforce that message. The vast majority of people are well aware that driving under the influence of alcohol is anti-social and dangerous; we need to get that message through to the minority who continue to flout the law. We also need to reinforce the message that any alcohol is risky to each new generation of drivers who may think that “just the one” is perfectly safe.

RoSPA urges the Government to reconsider lowering the drink-drive limit – and not to forget that the messages need to continue for future generations.

Kevin Clinton

RoSPA’s head of road safety

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