Drink-Driving News 2000

Note: All comments are those made at the time of the news item, and may have been superseded by later events.

November

  • Go-ped Drink-Rider Faces Ban
  • Drink-Drive Deaths Continue to Fall
October
  • Tories Plan Drug-Driving Bans
September
  • Drunken Cyclist Gaoled
August
  • Drink-Drivers Sent Back to Classroom
  • Whisky Cake Driver Escapes Ban
July
  • Drink-Drive Double Standards
  • Thousands Convicted by Faulty Breathalyser
April
  • Drink-Drive Confusion
March
  • Drink-Drive Limit Cut Shelved
February
  • Drug-Driving Probe
  • Recovery Time for Train Drivers
January
  • Record Waste of Police Time Hailed Great Success
  • Police Demand New Drink-Drive Powers

November 2000

  • Go-ped Drink-Rider Faces Ban

    Oldham businessman David Murray faced a driving ban after being found to be almost three times over the drink-drive limit after police breathalysed him on his way home from the pub on his Go-ped scooter. The father of two admitted he had a few drinks but said the 15-mph scooter was nothing more than a toy and asked for the case to be thrown out. But he has received a blow after the High Court ruled in a test case that Go-peds are motor vehicles in the eyes of the law and should be treated in the same way as motorcycles, cars and lorries. Surely there is a place for a fairly slow-moving powered vehicle that is subject to the same rules on drink-driving as pedal cyclists rather than motorists, but it would be much safer with four wheels rather than two.

  • Drink-Drive Deaths Continue to Fall

    According to the latest government figures, road deaths attributed to excess alcohol fell from 460 in 1998 to 420 in 1999. This marks a dramatic decline from well over 1,200 in the late70s. The number of people arrested for driving whilst over the limit has nearly halved in a decade. However, ministers are determined to keep the pressure on so the death toll is reduced even further. Another dramatic - and welcome - decline. But why is the government still determined to portray drink-driving as public enemy #1, when all the facts suggest otherwise? Surely they should recognise that it has now become a problem pretty much entirely confined to an unrecalcitrant hard core, and adapt their tactics accordingly.

October 2000

  • Tories Plan Drug-Driving Bans

    Tory Home Affairs spokesman Ann Widdecombe attracted widespread criticism for her plans to introduce ďzero toleranceĒ for cannabis users, including a £100 fixed penalty for possession of any quantity. The proposals were rapidly disowned after eight Shadow Cabinet members admitted to using cannabis in their youth, and one to actually enjoying it. An aspect of the proposals that drew less attention was that the presence of illegal drugs in the bloodstream would become an offence, not merely possession, and that people could be banned from driving if they had any drugs in their system. As the vast majority of adults drive, the drug-driving issue is one that must be addressed in a credible way before any liberalisation of drug laws can be contemplated. Iím all in favour of proper controls, but, as with alcohol, itís essential that impairment, rather than mere presence, can be proved, otherwise the policy will fail to command public support. Under Widdecombeís plans, you could have been banned from driving merely for going to a rock concert and inhaling a bit of the atmosphere. Fortunately, the plan will never come to fruition, and I suspect Dorisí days as a front-bench spokesman are numbered.

September 2000

  • Drunken Cyclist Gaoled

    A drunken cyclist who wrecked the life of a student nurse when he knocked her down in a pedestrian zone was gaoled for nine months at Manchester Crown Court. Salford resident Darren Ingham hit Jane Nicholls, who had sat her nursing finals five days earlier, while he was riding on the pavement after consuming a litre of fortified wine. Miss Nichollsí memory and speech were affected and, because of damaged nerves, she can neither drive nor cycle. Since the accident, her bursary had been stopped and she had been unable to return to her training. Itís generally recognised that drunken driving is dangerous, but this underlines that drunken cycling can be too (although obviously not remotely to the same degree). So why do some CAMRA branches still promote bike crawls which may involve visiting six or more pubs and very likely consuming a pint in each? Have they never read Rule 53 of the Highway Code? Take a look at Curmudgeon's column on the subject from October 1999.

August 2000

  • Drink-Drivers Sent Back to Classroom

    Drink-drive offenders face compulsory alcohol education and treatment courses under a shake-up of the motoring laws to be announced by ministers. Convicted motorists would be expected to attend an hour and a half class each week for between six to eight weeks in a course which would be designed to get them to face up to their problem drinking and prevent them reoffending. At present a small number of convicted drink-drivers pay to take such courses in return for a three-month deduction from their automatic 12-month driving ban. The AA gave a cautious welcome to the move, but a spokesman warned that if the classes were compulsory those attending might not have the same motivation. In the US some of the people sent for such reeducation simply turn up and spend the time playing cards. The trouble with this is that by no means all those convicted of drink-driving are in any sense problem drinkers. It makes no sense to lump together the person who has recorded an 85 mg BAC the morning after a few pints in the pub with the guy who's been stopped by police weaving around the road after consuming most of a bottle of Scotch, as the message they need to hear is completely different. And while offenders can be forced to attend courses, how can they be made to pay attention, let alone absorb and agree with the message?

  • Whisky Cake Driver Escapes Ban

    A woman motorist who failed a breath test was spared a driving ban after magistrates accepted that it was because she had eaten three hefty slices of a whisky-soaked Christmas cake. Julie Wynne, 42, argued that she had only drunk two halves of lager on the night in question but had tucked into the cake, which was made to a traditional grandmother's recipe and contained half a bottle of malt whisky. The ruling at Nottingham was hailed as a legal precedent. While the cynic in me does wonder whether this was just a good excuse, you have to be thankful for small mercies in that a court for once has exercised a sense of proportion. It's a pity that their discretion to consider the circumstances before passing sentence in drink-driving cases is in general non-existent, leading to numerous cases of injustice.

July 2000

  • Drink-Drive Double Standards

    The widow of a twice-commended policeman who hanged himself after being forced to resign because of a drink-driving conviction is considering taking his former employers to court alleging they had applied double standards in their treatment of him. Carrie Ellis said she felt her husband Richard had been unfairly treated by Hertfordshire Police who had allowed six other officers convicted of the offence in the past four years to keep their jobs. On the face of it, this is a gross example of hypocrisy and double standards. The police should apply consistent criteria to their officers who are caught breaking the law - either all are dismissed for particular offences, or none are. And the police are notorious as some of the keenest drink-drivers, as their "canteen culture" often revolves around heavy drinking, and they known very well which areas are being targeted for enforcement, and can avoid them.

  • Thousands Convicted by Faulty Breathalyser

    Thousands of motorists may have been wrongly convicted of drink-driving following research that indicated a commonly used model of breathalyser could over-read by up to 8%. Scientists at the Royal London School of Medicine found that the Intoximeter EC/IR, used by dozens of police forces, typically produced results between 6 and 8% higher than the longer-established Lion 6000. However, the Home Office stated that they remained satisfied with the accuracy of the equipment. Sounds like a major miscarriage of justice to me - so why arenít the civil liberties pressure groups up in arms and demanding public inquiries and resignations? They seem to have a very selective view of civil liberties that completely excludes both drivers and pubgoers. And, if this proves to be true, remember that these are not guilty people seeking to wriggle out of a loophole, but innocents who have been wrongly convicted, in many cases resulting in loss of livelihood and family breakdown.

April 2000

  • Drink-Drive Confusion

    The government's Road Safety Review published in March gave a clear indication that they did not intend to implement the reduction of the drink-drive limit in the near future, and this was borne out by several press reports. However, other reports during April suggest that they may have changed their mind and be going to press ahead with it anyway. These reports were distinctly worrying after it seemed that the plan had definitely been shelved. But surely, if they are going to do it, they should act decisively and unambiguously. The continued uncertainty leaves thousands of pub licensees in limbo and reflects badly on the ability of government ministers to take important decisions.

March 2000

  • Drink-Drive Limit Cut Shelved

    The government's review of road safety has abandoned proposals to cut the UK drive-drive limit from 80 mg to 50 mg in the immediate future, although it includes plans to increase penalties for drivers found to be well above the limit. In view of current consideration of a harmonised Europe-wide 50 mg limit it is proposed "to deal with proposed reductions in a European context". It's regrettable to see that they have in effect ducked this issue rather than coming out clearly against it as the government of Canada did several months ago. Pubs and pubgoers across the country will be able to breathe a small sigh of relief, but there's no guarantee that the government will not return to the issue in the future. The "European context" is something of a red herring as there have been several press reports that any plans to harmonise drink-drive limits had been put on ice.

February 2000

  • Drug-Driving Probe

    The government have asked the Transport Research Laboratory to study the role of illegal drugs in road accidents. Many police forces now believe that illegal drugs are responsible for more road casualties than excess alcohol, and that as many as 90,000 people may escape prosecution each year due to the lack of proper testing procedures. One in six drivers injured in accidents shows some traces of illegal drugs. About time too! But it is important to retain a sense of proportion and ensure that the research focuses on impairment rather than the mere presence of drug residues. Traces of cannabis, for example, can remain for two weeks, by which time any impact on driving must be long gone. As we appear to be inching towards a more tolerant legal climate for drugs, particularly cannabis, we must be careful not to use road traffic law as back-door drug prohibition, as a nil or near-nil alcohol limit would be.

  • Recovery Time for Train Drivers

    ASLEF General Secretary Mick Rix has called for longer breaks in train drivers' shift patterns to give time to remove the effects of social drinking and recreational drugs from their systems. Drivers from ethnic minorities, he says, may prefer using soft drugs to alcohol. Not surprisingly, this drew ritual cries of horror - but it is highlighting issues we have to face up to. I know from conversations with train drivers that they are subject to a much stricter alcohol code than motorists and, given that they often only get one day off a week, never really get chance to relax with a few drinks. If we are going to say that it is unacceptable for train drivers to use cannabis off-duty at all, then we should be giving them random drug tests and dismissing them for any traces. If not, then the question of recovery time must be addressed.

January 2000

  • Record Waste of Police Time Hailed Great Success

    In the first 12 days of December last year, officers from Cheshire Constabulary spot-checked 4,119 drivers. Of these, just three showed positive for excess alcohol - a detection rate of 0.073 per cent. But, despite complaints from some motorists about the results proving the spot-checks are worthless, Cheshire Police insisted they showed their tactics were working. Surely there must come a time when the police realise that these oppressive tactics are a complete waste of time. Either the scale of the problem has diminished so much that less attention should be paid to it (and indeed 1998 saw drink-related road deaths fall to a record low), or the police tactics are inappropriate for detecting offenders. But, of course, breathalysing innocent motorists is a lot easier than catching burglars, muggers and rapists - or, for that matter, apprehending hard-core drunk drivers.

  • Police Demand New Drink-Drive Powers

    Police have renewed calls for more powers to combat drink-driving despite figures showing there were 10% fewer positive breath tests during the Christmas and New Year period. The Association of Chief Police Officers has called for the drink-drive limit to be reduced and for officers to be given a new power to stop "hardcore" offenders. Surely the right response to this news should be to welcome the improvement. Since the police already seem to stop and test any motorist at will (see the first item), it is difficult to see what difference any additional powers would make. They must spell out exactly what extra powers they want and in what circumstances this would enable them to make arrests that they can't at the moment. And, as an AA spokesman said, "The hard core of drink drivers will ignore a lower limit just as they do the present one." Since it is the hard core over twice the legal limit who are responsible for the overwhelming majority of drink-related accidents, the only effect of a lower limit would be to criminalise law-abiding, responsible drivers - and to close thousands of pubs.


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