Why is 2010 different from 1967?

The point has been made to me that, prior to the introduction of the original breathalyser legislation in 1967, predictions were made that it would have a serious impact on the licensed trade which, by and large, proved to be incorrect. Why should things be any different now, and am I not being far too pessimistic?

In reality, the situation in 1967 was very different to the present day, and the two cannot be directly compared:

  1. 1967 was a time of rising alcohol consumption, so even if many car-borne pubgoers drank less, the reduction might be offset by others drinking more
  2. It was also a time of rapidly rising car ownership which led to more people in total wanting to drive out to pubs
  3. Many people would not want to drink more than the law allowed anyway, and so their behaviour would be unaffected
  4. In its early years at least, the new law was not particularly strictly enforced and some drivers felt they could still get away with what they were used to doing
  5. Pubs were in the early stages of developing their food business, which for many years would be able to take up much of the slack caused by reduced wet trade
  6. We are currently just emerging from a severe economic recession, which has put the pub trade under great pressure, not least because of the effects of the smoking ban

In reality, the long postwar pub boom continued well into the 1980s, and until then there is little evidence of anything but very occasional out-of-town pub closures except in areas of rural depopulation.

From the early 90s recession, things began to change, as official messages have deterred many people from visiting pubs by car even if they were staying within the law when doing so, and the revitalisation of town centres attracted drinkers away from out-of-town locations. Pub closures in all kinds of area are only too obvious. This is dealt with in more detail in Driven Away from Drink?

And a cut in the limit from 80 mg to 50 mg would undoubtedly lead many of those still visiting pubs by car either to spend less when there, or not bother at all and stay at home. As stated in The End of the Road for the Pub?, out-of-town pubs would not disappear entirely, but they would be many fewer, would be overwhelmingly food-oriented and would have little of the character traditionally associated with pubs. However, this would not happen overnight, but over a period of two to five years, and so would creep up on people rather than being very obvious.

(Last updated March 2010)

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