Drink-Driving News 2001

Note: All comments are those made at the time of the news item, and may have been superseded by later events.

December

  • Doctors Want to Trap Drink Drivers

November

  • Motorists in the Dark about Drink
  • 500 Reward to 'Shop' Drink-Drivers
  • Sour Taste of Safety Drive

September

  • Shock Rise in Drink-Related Road Deaths

June

  • Battered Wife Halts Bid to Escape Ban
  • Causeway Conviction Overturned

March

  • EU Urges Lower Drink Drive Limit on Britain
  • Fifteen Years for Drink-Driver who Killed Six
  • Breath Tests for Drunken Sailors

February

  • Police Urged to Breathalyse More Cyclists
  • Drink-Drive "Go-Ped" Rider Escapes Ban
January
  • No Fall in Christmas Drink-Driving
  • Stricter Curbs Urged on Hard Core Drink-Drivers
  • Whisky Cake Driver Banned After All
  • Crash Hero Banned After Failing Breath Test

Return to Home Page


December 2001

  • Doctors Want to Trap Drink Drivers

    DOCTORS have called for the right to take blood samples without permission from unconscious accident victims suspected of drink driving. The British Medical Association has asked the government to change the law which prevents them from doing so. However, the call is likely to provoke disquiet among civil liberties organisations, because it breaches a central tenet of patients' rights. Samples not for the immediate medical care of the patient have never been taken without consent before. Yet another example of drink-driving being regarded as such a uniquely reprehensible offence that the usual principles and safeguards of British law should be set aside.

November 2001

  • Motorists in the Dark about Drink

    A THIRD of motorists regularly drink and drive, believing they are under the legal alcohol limit, according to a Mori survey conducted for insurance company Direct Line. Yet one in six of these drivers admits not knowing how to calculate how many units have been consumed. Some respondents believed they could drink up to five pints of beer and still legally drive. Surely this underlines the need for more honest and accurate official information about what the legal alcohol limit means, rather than insisting at all times that drivers must never touch a drop. When I learned to drive in the mid-70s it was drummed into me that anything more than two pints of ordinary-strength beer could put you over the limit. This is broadly correct and it is disappointing that the appreciation of this simple yardstick has been eroded. But reading the results more carefully shows that in fact five out of six drivers do have a good idea of calculating alcohol units, which is actually quite encouraging.

  • 500 Reward to 'Shop' Drink-Drivers

    CALLERS who "shop" drink-driving friends could be given a reward of up to 500 as part of police force's Christmas safety campaign. A spokesman from Thames Valley Police said they had been "inundated" with inquiries since they urged people to tell on motorists who may be over the limit. If information leads to a conviction, people who ring in could earn up to 500 from an anti-crime charity. This is perhaps less alarming than it sounds, as it only really applies to acquaintances and relatives of habitual offenders. In practice, it is far from easy to reliably identify over-the-limit drivers in licensed premises, and, even if you did, it is doubtful whether the police would be able to apprehend them before they reached their destination. But, given the prospect of a large reward, there must be a risk that people will be tempted to inform rather than make any attempt to dissaude potential offenders, and even under some circumstances be encouraged to urge drivers to have extra drinks with the aim of securing a conviction.

  • Sour Taste of Safety Drive

    THOUSANDS of wine producers have marched through the centre of Lisbon to protest against the Portuguese government's lowering of the legal alcohol limit for drivers from 50 mg to 20 mg. The measure was the latest attempt to reduce the country's road accident death rate which is over twice the EU average. The producers claimed that wine sales had fallen by 30% and they wanted the old limit restored. As there is no evidence of impairment in drivers with alcohol levels below 50 mg, it is difficult to see the point of such a further reduction. Perhaps it is understandable in Sweden where there tends to be an all-or-nothing attitude towards alcohol, but in a Latin country such as Portugal it is unlikely to have the same impact on driver behaviour. Certainly the French seem to have scant regard for their 50 mg limit. And one wonders what the penalty is in Portugal for exceeding 20 mg.

September 2001

  • Shock Rise in Drink-Related Road Deaths

    PRELIMINARY Government figures for the year 2000 suggest that 520 people died in road accidents where at least one driver was found to be above the legal blood-alcohol limit, a rise from 460 the previous year. A further 17,000 were injured, also higher than in 1999. However, drink-driving convictions fell to 89,000, the lowest figure for a decade. These figures are taken from Road Accidents Great Britain 2000. The 1999 figure, previously reported as 420, has been revised upwards following more detailed information from inquests. No doubt this will result in a predictable chorus of demands from the anti-drink lobby to reduce the limit - but maybe it suggests that pursuing a line in official campaigns that is at variance with both the law and the facts on drink-related road risk is not proving a productive strategy.

June 2001

  • Battered Wife Halts Bid to Escape Ban

    A TERRIFIED WIFE who turned drink-driver to flee her violent husband has ended her bid to escape a driving ban. Mother-of-three Lorraine Tomkinson, 43, was acquitted when magistrates accepted she was forced to get behind a wheel to drive to a safe haven, but the decision was overturned by the High Court and she was given a 12-month ban. Ms Tomkinson drove 72 miles from Harrogate to her home in Sale, Cheshire, after her newlywed husband "flipped", breaking her nose and repeatedly smashing her head against a floor. She has now shelved plans to appeal. Her lawyer said, "It's terribly sad because I believe she was very badly wronged by the justice system. Lorraine has just had enough and wants to get on with her life. She believes the Crown Prosecution Service will keep fighting her even if she won an appeal and the thing will drag on and on." Yet another example of how the inability of the courts to take mitigating circumstances into account when passing sentence leads to individuals being treated in a harsh and unjust way.

  • Causeway Conviction Overturned

    A MOTORIST had his drink-driving conviction quashed after high court judges ruled that the island causeway where he was arrested was not a public place. Jeremy Planton, 47, had been arrested as he was returning home to the island of Osea, in the estuary of the river Blackwater in Essex. However, Lord Justice Pill said there was not enough evidence to prove the causeway was a public place, as it was used only for purposes relating to the 14 homes on the island. Mr Planton had his 1,100 fine and 18 month driving ban overturned. Clearly there is a grey area as to when somewhere that is not a public right of way counts as a "public place". But don't imagine that this applies to your local pub car park!

March 2001

  • EU Urges Lower Drink-Drive Limit on Britain

    THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION has told Britain to tighten its drink driving laws and cut the maximum amount of alcohol allowed in the bloodstream by almost 40%. The Home Office has fiercely resisted Brussels's attempts to legislate on the matter and will be irritated by the commission's call for the legal limit of alcohol in the blood to be reduced to 50 mg per millilitre from 80 mg, in line with 11 out of 15 member states. Sweden, holder of the EU's six month rotating presidency, has signalled its intention to press for further harmonisation, and the issue is likely to surface again in the coming months. It's difficult to see why there should be harmonisation on this issue when there are huge differences in many other aspects of road traffic law such as speed limits. And, if there was harmonisation, would Sweden be forced to raise its draconian 20 mg limit? And would there be also harmonisation of penalties, as most EU states, unlike Britain, do not impose mandatory driving bans until levels well above 80 mg?

  • Fifteen Years for Drink-Driver who Killed Six

    A DRIVER who killed six people after drinking thirteen pints of lager and two alcopops on a "motorised pub crawl" was jailed for fifteen years at Sheffield Crown Court after a judge said the maximum 10-year penalty was "wholly inadequate". Judge Alan Goldsack, QC, said that although the charges related to one accident, he was sentencing Peter Noble to consecutive sentences for causing death by dangerous driving on the basis that six people had died. Noble - who had three previous drink-driving convictions and was banned from driving when the accident happened - was also disqualified for life. Noble and eight friends had been drinking at seven pubs and were heading to an eighth when his Toyota Landcruiser hit a Daewoo saloon head-on as he drove on the wrong side of the road. Three members of a family returning from a 21st birthday party were killed in the Daewoo, along with three of Noble's passengers.

    A particularly shocking case, and an entirely justified sentence. But it does raise two serious issues:

    1. We are constantly told about "making speeding as socially unacceptable as drink-driving". But clearly in the circles in which Noble moved, drink-driving even to such a gross extent was not socially unacceptable - after all, eight passengers had agreed to travel in his vehicle, and presumably were well aware that he had been drinking heavily. Publicity campaigns, however shocking, do not seem to get through to this "motoring underclass" - maybe a different tactic is needed.
    2. So many of the serious drink-drive fatalities that are reported seem to involve people who are either banned or have a history of convictions for the offence. Maybe the police need to do more to establish whether these people are continuing to drive while disqualified, and once they get their licences back, subject them to a bit of mild harassment if there's any suggestion they have returned to offending. But of course setting up roadblocks and breathalysing hundreds of innocent motorists is a lot less like hard work.

    More details of this case can be found here.

  • Breath Tests for Drunken Sailors

    SURFERS and pedalo paddlers could fall foul of the law under new drink-sail restrictions proposed by the Government. The rules will set the same alcohol limit as for drivers for anyone engaged in navigation or propulsion of "all waterborne transport". The Transport Department said police would be given additional powers to board vessels, conduct tests and make arrests. Random tests were not envisaged. Officials said the change would meet a recommendation of the inquiry into safety on the Thames, which reported 15 months ago. Although mainly concerned with commercial vessels, the report said alcohol limits like those on the roads should be extended to "private pleasurecraft". Fair enough for powered craft, but since no licences are required offenders cannot be subject to bans, and nor would this cause much hardship to the occasional pleasure sailor. And surely the law for non-powered craft should be the same as that for pedal cycles, i.e. that those in charge should not be "drunk", but not prescribing a set alcohol limit.

February 2001

  • Police Urged to Breathalyse More Cyclists

    SAFETY CAMPAIGNERS have urged police to breathalyse more cyclists, after researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore found alcohol affects cycling more than driving. They claimed a third of cycling deaths involved drunk riders. The number of British cyclists prosecuted for being drunk has fallen as police concentrate on drivers. Kevin Clinton of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) said: "The police should take action, whether by breathalysing cyclists or just by taking them off their bicycles." In 1999, 172 cyclists were killed and 3,000 were seriously injured on British roads. The dangers - both to the cyclist and others - of cycling when drunk are often underestimated, and far too many people still think cycling home from the pub after a heavy session is a safe and acceptable alternative to taking the car. However I would resist a fixed legal blood-alcohol threshold for cyclists, as it would be difficult to set this any higher than that applying to car drivers, which would in my view be excessively strict.

  • Drink-Drive "Go-Ped" Rider Escapes Ban

    AN OLDHAM BUSINESSMAN escaped a driving ban after pleading guilty to being drunk in charge of a motorised micro-scooter. David Murray, 33, was seen "careering" across a road on a 28cc Blatino "go-ped" as he made his way home from the Royal Oak public house in Royton. Oldham magistrates fined him 250 for driving with excess alcohol and a similar amount for having no insurance. Clearly he didn't deserve a driving ban, but this judgment leaves the law unclear - where do you draw the line between Go-peds and mopeds? The legal position really does need to be clarified. And, as I said before, there is a case for a category of low-speed powered vehicle that is not subject to such strict rules on alcohol as cars and motorcycles.

    For the original report see November 2000

January 2001

  • No Fall in Christmas Drink-Driving

    BREATH-TEST FIGURES released during January showed that drink-drivers continued to be a menace on Greater Manchester roads at Christmas. Positive tests were 24 per cent up on last year - and 56 per cent higher than Christmas 1998. Police chiefs were trying to find out why drivers were ignoring massively-publicised warnings. Throughout Greater Manchester, during the Christmas and New Year fortnight, 78 drivers were arrested when they provided positive breath tests after 452 road accidents involving injury, compared with figures of 63 arrests after 372 crashes in 1999. As these figures only represent a rise from 16.94% to 17.26%, it's hard to see why it justified such a hysterical over-reaction from the "Manchester Evening News". The greater number of accidents was no doubt due to the poor driving conditions caused by snow and ice this year. And surely publicity campaigns would be much more effective if they admitted honestly that the law represents a limit, not a prohibition, that a half of mild does not turn a driver into a drunken killer, and that drivers may still be well over the limit the next day following a heavy drinking session.

  • Stricter Curbs Urged on Hard Core Drink-Drivers

    POLICE CHIEFS have demanded new powers to stop persistent drink drivers on suspicion at any time. They want to be able to breathalyse them without having to meet the legal test of suspecting that an offence is being committed. Ken Williams, Chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers traffic committee, said it was consulting the Government over stiffer sentences for repeat drink drivers and new powers to breathalyse. They would be aimed at a hard core of persistent offenders and "would not be applied indiscriminately against the general driving public". While there is much to be said for targeting enforcement more closely on hard-core offenders, the question must be asked under what circumstances precisely the police would be able to carry out breath tests with new powers that they can't do now, given the liberal way in which they interpret their current powers. If they don't even suspect someone is over the limit, what's the point in breathalysing him (except maybe to warn him off on future occasions). And what safeguards would there be against harassment either of individuals or particular licensed premises?

  • Whisky Cake Driver Banned After All

    A WOMAN who claimed she ate Christmas cake laced with whisky has watched her excuse for not being banned for drink-driving crumble away. Julie Wynne, 43, escaped disqualification when Nottingham magistrates believed her claim she had not known the cake had been soaked in half a bottle of the drink. But she has now been told she must face disqualification after two London High Court judges ruled the magistrates' decision so unreasonable as to be perverse. I always felt this was something of a cock-and-bull story, so I'm not particularly surprised that the decision has been reversed. However, it underlines the complete lack of sentencing discretion permitted to magistrates in drink-driving cases, making them unable to take any mitigating factors into account.

    See August 2000 for the original story

  • Crash Hero Banned After Failing Breath Test

    WHEN SUFFOLK DOCK WORKER Matthew Palmer saw a car overturn in his rear-view mirror, he immediately pulled over and ran back to help an injured passenger and direct traffic until the police arrived. In contrast, the driver of the crashed car fled. But, when the police did arrive, they smelled alcohol on Palmer's breath and arrested him for drink driving, resulting in him being banned from driving for a year by Ipswich magistrates. A police spokesman said later: "It is unfortunate for him that he was breathalysed but good Samaritans are not exempt from the law." More evidence, if any were needed, that magistrates should be given more discretion as to the sentences they impose. Surely both Matthew Palmer and Julie Wynne, even if convicted of an offence, did not deserve to be banned from driving.


Next News

Latest News

Return to Home Page