Note: This is a copy of a web page created by Gordon Haines in the 1990s which has now disappeared from its original location on the web.

Drink-driving - Why the fuss?

I have added nothing to this site while the report on the public consultation is pending.

However, a local event has inspired the poet in me

Those of a non-poetic disposition jump to the Main Text

On Wednesday 16th September the Daily Telegraph reported the case of a local motorist ambushed by the police while driving home on a deserted unmade farm track at 1.00am. He was breathalysed and charged with drink-driving.

A conviction and 12 month driving ban followed - but in an uncharacteristic outbreak of common sense on appeal the ban was quashed.


In a midnight field nigh Shottisham
beside a lonely furrow
An unhappy little doe rabbit
Lies weeping in her burrow
For all her kits are out at play
'though she told them not to do it
as fearful danger comes their way
and they are sure to rue it.
For scorching down the muddy track
Half speed in second gear
Comes a villain with a heart of stone
Who drank a glass of beer.

But dry your eyes my furry friend
The police are on the case
All shootings, muggings and thefts are shelved
While they rush to you in haste
For there really is no crime so black
In all right persons eyes
As crossing a ploughed field at night
With alcohol inside.

The SWAT teams they are in the trees
Behind each bush a Panda
To show the laws agin drink-drive
Are more than propaganda
Inside a copse the riot squad have just put on their gear
The helicopters fill the sky, and in a clearing near
with batons drawn the mounted police
are bringing up the rear

Come happy thieves unpack your tools
The world is yours today
The boys in blue will not stop you
They've bigger fish to play.
For to stations wide across the land
The word has gone about
In East Suffolk a driver
looked at a glass of stout

The trap is sprung, the villain caught
In chains he's dragged away
Triumphant rockets light the sky
The bands begin to play
The bats are doing victory rolls
The field mice raise a cheer
And on a log a slug lets fall
a celebratory tear.

Go paedophile and grab that child - it really is no matter
The keepers of the peace are far to busy to catch satyrs
Our watchful guardians of the law
have their priorities right
For the pleasures of the witch hunt
cannot be denied
As treason, murder, rape and arson
are peccadilloes light
And the crimes of Jack the Ripper
to insignificance pale
when set against a driver who drinks a glass of ale.

Main Text

Apology and explanation

First, an apology to those outside GB who follow this site.

This issue deals with a specific GB matter. Our Pink Nanny Government wishes to lower our drink-drive limit from 80mg to 50mg (0.08 to 0.05), first because Nanny hates those nasty people who do not live in towns, and second because Nanny knows best anyway.

Preliminary news of this raised so many objections the Government decided to go through the motions of public consultation, and have issued COMBATING DRINK DRIVING: NEXT STEPS (CDD for short) as a consultation document.

For those interested, the Dept of the Environment, Transport and Regions (DETR for short) has details at and I would urge GB readers to visit.

Last date for comments - 8th May.

It was my original intention to publish my comments on CDD in full, but CDD raises a number of minor matters as well as the main one and is very repetitive, which my reply had to follow - where it raises the same point three times in different places I answer it three times in different places, - and in the end my response to the DETR's 35 pages occupies 26 pages of A4 - far too long for this site.

I therefore concentrate on the main issue - the drop from 80mg to 50mg, and as a preliminary deal with the general repetitive themes first to give the background, and then go on to the specific points on which the Government asks for comments.

In the following headings/quotations/summaries from COMBATING DRINK DRIVING are in bold italic. References are in brackets [ ].

Included from the old edition is Tailpiece the Media. This is because I refer to it in passing in my full comments, and give this site as its location.


The Writer
General Overview
Road Accidents in General
Blood Alcohol and Risk
Gain from Lowering from 80mg to 50mg
Casualties Caused by not Drink Driving
Effect on Rural Communities
Statistics - the last 10 years
An Unjust Law

Improving enforcement

Police Breath Testing Powers
Measures to prevent driving between the offence and Court Proceedings

Improving the system of offences and penalties

Lowering the Blood Alcohol Limit
Penalties for a Lower Drink Drive Limit
Annex A - Individual Risk


Tailpiece - the Media

The Writer

OR What gives you the right to deconstruct my sacred cow? .....

I had had 25 years behind the wheel when the 1967 Act came into force. My feelings then, like most, were that there were many more serious things to worry about on the roads than drink, and the 31 years since the Act have done nothing to change this. However, like most in those far off days of innocence I trusted Nanny, and thought she probably knew best. It took subsequent events to make me realise how devious, self-seeking and mendacious the bluenosed old bat and her hangers on actually are.

In those days a "moving traffic offence" was necessary before a breath test, but from the moment the Act came into force a rash of stops for obviously fabricated reasons were reported. Thirty years ago evidence of the police systematically breaking the law was a sky-falling-in shock.

A relative who had been in the habit of driving to his local was persuaded to walk. The first time he did so he was knocked down and killed on the way there. If he had had the protection of his own steel box with lights round him the accident would not have taken place.

Then a friend was involved in an accident in which all the witnesses, including the perpetrator agreed he was blameless. It was the innocent over-the-limit who collected the heavier sentence.

Also, living in a rural area I was concerned at the procession of closed pubs, and the deterioration in social life and community togetherness in the wake of harsher enforcement.

All these led me to ask why was drink given so much publicity, pursued so vigorously, and punished so heavily when equally avoidable and more important accident causes were minimised, why were illegal methods being used to bring people to court, how many others was the Act killing, and what had happened to British Justice which, like all of my generation, I had been brought up to regard as the best in the world?

Quickly it became obvious that whatever the propaganda might claim road safety was not even tertiary in the motives behind the law and its enforcement.

Then came attempts to raise these doubts publicly. Politicians either did not reply or evaded the issues, and the media was not interested - witch hunts make better copy.

As Combating DD does not mention the media I have said nothing on this subject, but those who are interested can find the story... under "Tailpiece - The Media".

G.E.H: March 1998.

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General Overview

CDD : Executive Summary pp 5-7 Par 1-15

A condensed version of items which appear in greater detail later in the document.

In general the document is disappointing in the number of relevant issues it does not include.

It does not see beyond blood/alcohol measurements which are notoriously a extremely crude method of measuring accident liability though more accurate methods are now available, it ignores the rise in pedestrian casualties through not driving, it ignores the serious economic and social consequences of the present limit, let alone any extension, on rural areas in particular.

Above all, it suggests no alteration to the present mandatory sentence, vicious when compared with those applied to more serious offences, and far in excess of those imposed by the rest of the civilised world, and above all does not deal with the denial of justice to defendants and the insult to the magistracy inseparable from mandatory sentencing.

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Road Accidents in General"

CDD Introduction pp9 Par 1-2

Par 1 : Road accident levels alarming high compared with other non-health related ...

Our Road Deaths at 6.4 per 100,000 population [1] are the lowest in the world. Even a single death is regrettable, but it is a gross exaggeration to describe this figure as "alarming high".

There were 3,598 road fatalities in GB, ... compared to 850 homicides.

Can the Government really not see the differences, both moral and practical, between the deliberate and premeditated killing of another and accidental deaths of which a high proportion are those of the person causing the accident?

.. a major element in this strategy (to reduce road accidents) must be the reduction of drink-related accidents which are a totally unnecessary and avoidable waste ...

The most dangerous thing we do on the road is to drive. All journeys except those made by the emergency services, public transport, and those transporting essential goods from or to the nearest railhead are in the ultimate unnecessary and the consequent accidents are therefore avoidable. Cut out these inessential uses of the motor vehicle and we could save around 3,500 lives a year. The principle that we may, for our pleasure or minor convenience kill or maim others is therefore well established - road safety is only a matter of selecting which forms of unnecessary and avoidable waste are to be allowed and which penalised.

The 10% of drink related accidents are no more (and no less) an unnecessary and avoidable waste than the other 90%.

Of these, speeding is known to kill more than double the number, vehicle defects account for as many, and a recent experiment with cameras to cut down red light jumping was reported to have reduced accidents by 70%, which makes this nearly five times more dangerous. There is also concern about drugs, which from some belated studies appears to be a bigger problem than drink with the under 25 age group. At the level of the individual driver, using mobile phones and driving with uncorrected eyesight are equally dangerous.

Moreover while reducing these dangers is all gain the same cannot be said of reducing drink-driving. If you leave the car at home then in most cases some, if not all, of your journey and that of your erstwhile passengers has to be on foot. Pedestrians are vulnerable, particularly after dark, and the proportion of "drink-walk" casualties are rising, and as long ago as 1988 the DOT connected the two. [2]

Conclusion : Therefore, far from playing the "major role" ascribed to it drink-drive very much a midrange cause of accidents, and it is difficult to see why this low-ranking cause has been singled out in preference to others if the objective is purely road safety. The only way in which drink is exceptional, particularly in the UK, is in the vicious penalties which it attracts, which are a reflection of attitudes toward alcohol rather than safety.

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Blood Alcohol and Risk

CDD : Introduction Par 2 pp 9 : The Scientific evidence of the link between alcohol in the body and the risk of road accidents is well established",

This is only true for an average of a very large sample. The cited Borkenstein's Grand Rapids Study in 62/3 involved 14,000 motorists. At the individual level blood alcohol is an extremely inaccurate measure of accident proneness; of two drivers at the same level one can be eight times more dangerous than the other even in the same traffic conditions.

The breath ratio is a crude measure of the blood ratio, which is in turn a crude measure of the alcohol in the brain, which in turn loosely correlates with physical phenomena such as reaction times, which together with the psychological effects are loosely connected to accident risk.

With simulators it is now possible to bypass the first three sloppy links in the chain, and also to get some measure of what blood alcohol does not - judgement. This method also has the advantage that it can be used for drugs as well as drink. The advantages of direct reaction measurement are so obvious it is difficult to understand the refusal to even study the method, in spite of it being suggested by Brussels as a means of checking the fitness to drive of the elderly.

Unless, of course, accidents are only secondary and the true target is the demon alcohol.....


Conclusion : Blood alcohol measurements are, in the individual case, a highly inaccurate measure of accident liability, and should be replaced by more up-to-date methods.

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Gain from Lowering from 80mg to 50mg

CDD : INTRODUCTION Par 2 pp 9 .... it is generally accepted that at blood alcohol levels between 50 and 80mg an average driver is around 2 or 2.5 times as likely to be involved in an accident ..
CDD : The need for further measures Par 13 pp 9 : asserts, without producing evidence, that for most drivers impairment begins at a much lower level than 80mg, and then goes on to say that although the law allows for the low level impaired to be prosecuted this seldom happens... This strongly suggests that drinking in the 50-80mg range is a significant and largely hidden cause of accidents.

Conclusion : There is no evidence of it so there must be a lot of it about.

CDD : Improving the system of offences and penalties :LOWERING THE BLOOD ALCOHOL LIMIT Par 34-39 pp 19/20 : deal with the possible effects of lowering the legal limit to 50mg, and estimated that 50 lives would be saved by lowering the limit to 50mg.

The first major study - still current and cited several times in the consultation paper was that in Grand Rapids by professor R F Borkenstein 1962-1964, which showed a 20% increase at 50 and a 50% increase at 80mg. A recent German Study Kruger et al [3] raised the 80mg figure to 70%, but still considerably lower than the 100-150% claimed in the CDD.

The number 50 is very hypothetical. It leans heavily on foreign studies, and even these vary in their conclusions - Kruger et al [3] put the probable reduction in accidents by reducing the limit to 50mg at 4% of those above 80mg, which would mean only 20. This supports home based information from Everest & Jones [4], where using the numbers found above and below the limit together with the Borkenstein risk factors gives 22 times as many accidents above 80mg to every one in the 50-80 range, or 4.5%, again around the 20 mark.

The "if it only saves one life ... " argument can be deployed here, but this assumes that there is no better use for the resources needed to enforce a lower limit. The two major causes of accidents, speed and signal jumping, have been proved to be very responsive to road cameras, but most camera housings are empty shells because the police lack the manpower to process the results.

Also, the effect on other casualties is ignored. If you leave the car at home when drinking for most people all or part of the journey for you and your erstwhile passengers will be made on foot - and pedestrians are vulnerable. None of the studies, home or abroad, takes this negative factor into account.

Roughly, over the last 10 years, every reduction in drink-drive deaths by ten has been associated with a rise of pedestrian/cyclist deaths by a little over two, so our 50 - 20 range drops to 40 -15, with the latter being more probable.

Conclusion : There is no general agreement that reducing the limit will significantly decrease casualties.

Take into account the rise in pedestrian casualties and the diversion of effort it will probably cost lives.

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Casualties Caused by not Drink Driving

When accident saving measures, such as the drink-drive legislation are introduced we must consider the negative as well as the positive effects. It is total road casualties which count, not just one item in isolation. If the car is left at home then for most drivers the whole, or at least part of the journey for them and their erstwhile passengers will be on foot or cycle where they are much more vulnerable than those in cars.

In 1988 the DOT speculated[5 ] that there could be a connection between the rise in drink-walker casualties and the decline in drink-driving, and in a number of reports has commented on the high proportion of drinking pedestrians in the accident statistics.

In 1995 77% of pedestrians killed between 10pm and 4am were over the legal limit for driving [6], and according to DOT statistics the percentage of pedestrians over 16 killed who had been drinking rose in the 10-year period between 1983 and 1993 from 33% to 44%, equivalent to 100 deaths a year, so in part drink-drive reductions have been achieved by burying the bodies under the pedestrian/cyclist columns in the statistics.

In the various issues of Road Accidents Great Britain are tables [7] showing the percentage of pedestrians and cyclists over 16 killed who have been drinking. These indicate an increase of 0.67% p.a.. for pedestrians, and 0.54% for cyclists in the period 1983-1995.

These are underestimates as they only contain those killed returning from the pub etc.., and not on the outward journey when they also would have been vulnerable.

This increase has in all probability been going on since 1967, and if so then over 2,000 of the 10,600 KSI pedestrians/cyclists in 1995 would have been killed or injured as a consequence of following the advice not to drink and drive.

Conclusion : The rise in other road casualties as drink-driving falls is considerable, and must be taken into account in any true assessment of drink-drive strategy

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Effect on Rural Communities

There would be no compliance costs for members of the public in a lower limit.

Such a statement could only come from an urban centred Government whose interest in rural matters runs the whole gamut from complete indifference to schadenfreude. The damage caused by the law is not confined to the deaths and injuries to drink-walkers/cyclists. It has also caused a significant decline in social life and community spirit together with an increase in antisocial behaviour particularly in rural areas.

One of the centres of village life is the pub. In the first year of the current legislation, also from a "townee" labour Government, over 5,000 jobs were lost in village pubs and country hotels, the closures have continued with every increase in enforcement. The Save Our Country Pubs Campaign has estimated that a 50mg limit would close at least 5,000 more country pubs.

It is an unavoidable feature of country life is that very little in the way of entertainment, particularly for the young, goes on in any one place. Events are spread - a dance here tonight, a barbecue somewhere else tomorrow, a match at the weekend - all dependent on the use of cars for attendance - and increasingly rural drivers are afraid to use them.

We have heard a lot recently about the evils of minimum mandatory sentences, and nothing which has been said against them in other connections does not apply with equal force to the vicious minimum 12-month ban for drink-driving offences.

For the townsman, with his 18 to 20 hour a day public transport system and cheap taxis readily available the offence easy to avoid and the consequences of being caught only an inconvenience at most. For a rural dweller wholly dependent on a car to get to work, let alone have any form of social life, a ban can be a disaster, including loss of job and home, and this part of the Act is typical of "townee" ignorance of - or indifference to - the demands of life outside the street lights.

It means bored youth trapped in a small town with nothing to do but drink until closing time, fight outside the take-away, and then walk home leaving a trail of broken trees and fences, gates off hinges, smashed street furniture and vandalised cars.

Conclusion : Far from the costs being nil the costs of complying are unreasonably high particularly for the rural community.

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Statistics - the last 10 years

CDD : The need for further measures Pp 12 Par. 11 : .... the downward trend in drink-drive related casualties has ceased.

At first sight there are no shortage statistics about Drink-Driving as in spite of its relatively insignificant place at third or fourth of the easily identifiable causes of accidents it is the only one for which statistics are collected regularly. STATS 19, the record made by the police after accidents has 70 questions. The only one which deals with a possible cause other than road design or weather is whether a positive breath test was made. There is nothing on any other possible cause.

The official figures are estimates, not hard numbers. For various reasons it is not possible to test drivers/riders in all accidents and an estimate is made for the remainder. For 1988, the last year for which hard information is given, the proven number of associated fatalities was 573. The estimated number is 790, an increase of 217, or nearly 40%, [8] and although we can be sure that every effort is made to make estimates accurate [9] in the end an estimate is not a fact.

In CDD there follows a table under six heads and a graph. For simplicity I take only Casualties KSI (Killed or Seriously Injured), though a similar exercise could be done for any other head. This shows between 1986 and 1995 a drop of KSI from 7,430 to 3,540, or 52% in the KSI associated with illegal levels of alcohol.

Associated does not mean caused by, and to estimate how many are caused we need to know the increase relative risk presented by those over the limit.

The great bulk of what information is available is of the crude did/did not pass the initial roadside breathalyser test variety, and this sample is of a self-selected group composed of the most accident prone and those who alcohol affects their driving enough to give reasonable grounds for suspicion. The other source is from foreign studies, many old , which because of cultural and legal differences are of dubious relevance to the UK. Borkenstein collected his data 35 years ago in an industrial area of the USA and includes drivers as young as 15. In the USA road deaths per 100,000 is two and a half times ours. [1]

The only GB study of all drivers is ten years old and was made in Nottingham. [4] , and together with the relative risks at each level [10] enables a rough estimate that at least one in 10 "associated" would have happened anyway. Taking the 1995 figure as a base, this drops 1986 from 7,430 to 6,690.

During the 10 year period there was a 34% drop in total KSI over the period due to improved roads, vehicles, MOT etc.. all factors which would have equally affected the DD statistics. Correcting for this changes 1986 down to 4330.

Over this period the displaced pedestrian and cyclist casualties will have risen by 608. (See Casualties Caused by not Drink Driving), which raises the 1995 figure to 3790.

Overall, this changes the claimed drop over 10 years of KSI from 7,430 to 3,540, or 5% p.a. to a drop from 4330 to 3790, 1% p.a. of drink-drive or 0.1% p.a. of total KSI.

The number of breath tests in the period, rose from 303,000 to 703,000, an increase of 132% or 40,000 year, roughly 33,000 for each 1% drop in drink-caused KSI. Conclusion : The actual drop over the period is small, and given the high proportion estimated may even be zero, in spite of a massive increase in police expenditure.

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An Unjust Law

CDD : Improving the system of offences and penalties : pp 19-23 par 32 :
the court .. is able to measure the severity of the offence ... and to scale its punishment as appropriate ..... Hence a high degree of consistency ... and proportionality in sentencing .."

Three words give the lie to such claims- Minimum Mandatory Sentence. If the court is able to measure the severity etc.. etc. why is one necessary?

As has already been established (Effect on Rural Communities), the mandatory minimum 12 month ban for driving over-the-limit is regressive in that it hits the rural population hard while having a much lesser effect on the urban.

It also significantly departs not only from the principles of British justice as exercised in all other traffic offences but from the practice of most other civilised nations.

First consider the case of a motorist charged with driving at 64 mph in a 30 mph limit, where the actual guilt is not in dispute. He/she can ask the court to take into account the facts that the road was wide and empty and the journey short, the weather fine and visibility good, and that even the police witnesses agree that apart from the speed his driving was without fault.

He can have taken into consideration the urgency of his journey - a close relative has had an accident and he is rushing to hospital to be at their side, that he has held a clean licence for 30 years and has never before been charged with as much as a parking offence.

He can plead for leniency on the grounds that a driving ban will affect his paralysed daughter who he has ferry everywhere.

The court will - in fact must - consider all these matters, and although they have the power to endorse the licence for up to 6 points and fine up to 1,000 they may award less, and although they may disqualify again they may decide not to do so.

The standard tariff for over 30 mph above the limit is seven days disqualification, but whatever the penalty the defendant can appeal to a higher court against sentence if he feels that any of the above factors in his favour have not been given sufficient weight.

Compare this with the same driver in exactly the same circumstances except that he was travelling within the speed limit, but found to be just above the drink-drive limit.

As the offence is absolute the defendant has to stand mute as the court does not have the power to take into consideration any of the mitigating factors above. Its powers of sentence are limited by a minimum penalty of disqualification for twelve months (when comparing this with the seven days ban for the 64 mph speedster remember that speed kills over twice as many as drink). This high minimum makes a mockery of the claims of proportionality and wide discretion in sentencing, particularly when comparisons are made with equally or more dangerous traffic offences. It is a bit like claiming that a strict fundamentalist court has wide discretion when dealing with a thief because it can cut off either the right hand or the left.

It is sometimes claimed that the drink case differs from speeding because the speeder can "take his foot off" when conditions demand it, (though the statistics seem to show that this often does not happen), while the over-the-limit driver will stay over. While it is true that the over-the-limit driver may not be able to come below the limit at will he can stop driving - if he is willing to be prosecuted for being "drunk in charge".

Another argument is that drink-driving is individually more dangerous - the large number of speed accidents relates to the fact that no one obeys speed limits, while only a minority drink.

Driving a vehicle with defective brakes or steering is arguably more dangerous than being over the limit because the danger is there every time the vehicle is driven, while few drivers over the limit for more than a small percentage of their mileage, yet the same rights and even lower penalties than those enjoyed by the 64 mph driver apply.

Also, the Transport and Road Research Laboratory has just issued a report to the effect that using a mobile phone while driving is as dangerous as being over the limit - but this is not even to be made an offence - there is to be a publicity campaign instead - so the drinker's allegedly high level of individual danger cannot be the reason either.

Pressure of public opinion is often claimed to be the reason for the exceptional treatment handed out to drinkers, but the present state of public opinion has only been reached by over thirty years of intense and in many cases dishonest propaganda and its basis is unsound. Currently figures from surveys show 60%-80% hostile to drink-driving , depending on how loaded the questions and how loaded the sample, and it is a tribute to the common sense of the public that despite the heavy and continuous brain washing around a third are still unconvinced.

It is also claimed that this is not the only motoring offence which carries a mandatory ban. True, some dangerous driving offences carry such a ban. However, the prosecution first has to prove to a jury that the driving was exceptionally bad, and that some lesser offence such as careless driving which does not carry a mandatory sentence is appropriate, and again an appeal is possible.

Drink-drive is the only offence in which the defendant is denied the elementary right of having the full circumstances of his case considered by the court, and the only offence where the court does not have the right and power to fit the punishment to the crime.

If media reports are correct [11] in this we are also out of line with the rest of the civilised world who generally leave disqualification to the discretion of the courts and set upper rather than lower limits - Italy a maximum of 3 months, Denmark a maximum of 12 months, France, whose 50mg limit were are urged to copy, like us, operates a penalty point system - accumulate 12 and you are banned. However, over 50mg only collects three points, and over 80mg only six. Even if you do collect enough for a ban just volunteer for a two-day road safety course and you get your licence back. To get an automatic 12 months you need 300mg! Belgium - variable, Portugal 8 days upwards, Greece up to 6 months, Germany a month and upwards.

How did this unsatisfactory state of affairs come about?

All northern European cultures have strong and influential anti-alcohol movements, but, after the debacle of Prohibition in the USA their influence mainly extended to persuading governments to do what want to do anyway - tax. However the establishment of a quantifiable scientific link with accidents provided an opportunity, and pressure for harsh penalties was exerted.

The problem in this country was that the penalties already in place were so harsh for "driving under the influence" that juries were already refusing to convict in many cases, and if they were not ready to convict even when evidence of impairment was to hand then the chances of convictions for the purely technical offence of making an indicator go beyond an arbitrary point with no evidence of danger whatever was slight.

The answer was simple - abolish the right to jury trial and give the offence to the summary courts. However, although magistrates are less likely to bring perverse judgements than juries they do possess common sense, and use it to give low sentences when appropriate. This did not suit those whose main object was to punish any congress with the demon alcohol.

Also the sentences proposed would ensure that nearly ever case would be vigorously defended and often go to appeal, throwing additional burdens on the courts. The solution to this was the same - take away the rights of the accused for his case to be judged on its individual merits and the power of the courts to do so, and turn the judiciary into rubber stamps by means of a mandatory sentence.

Conclusion : The minimum mandatory sentence is an affront to justice and should be abandoned and full powers restored to the courts.

The silliest item in the whole of motoring law is the in charge offence, where a drinking motorist can be prosecuted even when shows no intention of driving, or having started wisely has stopped. If someone for whatever reason is not fit to drive and is not doing so then they should be encouraged, not punished.

The law as it stands encourages a "may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb" attitude.

Conclusion : The in charge offence is counter productive from a road safety point of view.

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Police Breath Testing Powers

CDD : Improving enforcement : POLICE BREATH-TESTING POWERS : pp 12 : Par 19 : ... there may be a case for allowing police powers to require a breath test without prior suspicion for a specific period .. at a specific location ..

This is the power asked for by the ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) in 1996 to harass suspects in general and car-parks at or near pubs and hotels in particular.

Why are the police, who must know better than anyone the falseness of the claim that there is anything special about drink-drive, so keen on this particular offence? In particular why, while they allegedly lack of resources to deal with assault, theft and vandalism is breathalysing is on the increase, 208,000 cases in 1983, 781,000 in 1996, and why is money freely available for Gestapo style hot lines on which neighbour is encouraged to secretly denounce neighbour, wives to denounce husbands, and children denounce parents?

The police are as susceptible to propaganda as any other group of citizens, and there is no doubt that many, particularly at junior levels, sincerely believe that risking harm to others for the sake of a drink shows in some esoteric way greater depravity than placing others at risk to save the cost of a new tyre, or simply because of impatience. At more senior levels we can be sure that more calculated reasons apply.

Part of the reason is undoubtedly that like everyone else the police prefer to emphasise their successes. Against the annual rises in crime in general, and violent crime in particular, the anti-drink exercise is the police's one positive story. Although as shown on a previous page (Statistics - the last 10 years) the success has been greatly exaggerated positive results have been obtained even though the effort could have been put to better use elsewhere.

Also, as any Industrial Psychologist will tell you, all professionals prefer workloads over which they have a large measure of control. Of the 781,000 roadside breath tests in 1996 only 20% were following an injury accident, which the police had to attend in any case. The remaining 622,000 were discretionary, which meant that the decision whether to stop a particular motorist on "suss", or to run a more general "blitz" at a particular place was a matter entirely within police control, so actions could be confined to where the consequences would not include a riot or career damaging accusations of racial harassment. Thus we read of road blocks in Brighton, but none in Brixton.

Moving from characteristics common to all professions to those peculiar to the police, we know that among their dislikes are "wasting time" in court, particularly when this leads to "derisory" sentences. The technical nature of the offence being of Over the Limit - the prosecution has to prove nothing but the blood/alcohol level - covers the first complaint, while the vicious mandatory minimum penalty overcomes the second. In other words the breathalyser is by far the easiest way of obtaining a conviction followed by a significant sentence.

This perceived easy kill has been exploited from the start, and bans on random testing with requirements such as "moving traffic offences" and "reasonable suspicion" either overcome by invented reasons or completely ignored. This is particularly evident from the periodic road blocks - the excuse that the general power to stop is only being used to establish if grounds exist may be legal, but is pure sophistry nonetheless.

par 19 pp 15 : The Government invites views on whether ... powers (at a specific place at a specific location for a limited period) ... to authorise breath testing without prior suspicion should be introduced :
NO because :
a) The police have already widely illegally abrogated such a power, and such authorisation would encourage even wider abuse.

b) The power to target certain locations is effectively the power to close down individual landlords and businesses without the present safeguards for the victim surrounding the opposition to a licence, and would be open to abuse.

c) The power would degenerate into another opportunity for random scalp hunting, and in such a way that the misery would not be equitably distributed. As mentioned above the police are already reluctant to target certain areas because of the danger of riots - and the targeting of inner city pubs is difficult because generally they do not have car parks - land is too expensive and at night in particular there is plenty of street and other parking available. This means the brunt of the harassment will fall on suburban and rural motorists, particularly the latter who are the major victims of the current witch hunt.

Recommendation far from extending police powers their present widespread abuse of powers should be discouraged.

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Measures to prevent driving between the offence and Court Proceedings

CDD : Improving enforcement : MEASURES TO PREVENT DRIVING BETWEEN THE OFFENCE AND COURT PROCEEDINGS pp 16/17 : Par 20-26 :The heading for this section summaries the contents.

A proof of the proposition that whatever the degree of mental confusion may be in those who have taken a drink it is nothing when compared to the muddled thinking that the word "drink" can induce in its detractors.

To begin with, why only drinkers? Why not speedsters, users of mobile phones or those who jump red lights and those who commit other risky offences?

More importantly, in common with other motoring offences it is not the offence which is the problem but the chances of a consequential accident. If, say, the M1 were closed to all traffic except for one vehicle the driver could be four times over the limit and driving at 100 mph on the wrong side of the road and it would not matter in the slightest.

Therefore the risks of the drinker causing an accident even if he is willing to take the of risk coming up on two charges instead of one must be taken into account. An example is given in ANNEX A of a driver who drives once a week at double the legal limit. He will average over 3,400 years between fatal accidents, and over a century between slight alcohol related accidents, and even then in a majority of cases the victim will be himself.

Drink-drive accidents only reach significant looking numbers because of the large number of drivers and vehicles (approaching 30 million) making between them billions of journeys annually - multiply even the smallest risk by billions and it will look significant. That does not alter the fact that at the individual level the public danger presented is slight.

CDD : Par 20 : first states that when a drink trial is delayed the evidence is "less likely to be overturned in court than in other traffic offences", and proceeds with the non-sequitur that delay "operates in favour of the defendant".
Comment How? A years ban is a years ban, whether it starts this week or next.

Par 22-24 : instance two circumstances in which a driver can be banned from driving before trial, "Interim disqualification", and "bail conditions." In the first case the period off the road can count towards any ban eventually imposed, in the second it cannot
Par 24 : Views would be welcomed on the proposition that periods off-road imposed by bail conditions should likewise count toward any eventual ban.

View Of course it should - and given the number of amendments to the original law since 1967 it is a scandal that such a piece of natural justice is not already in place.

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Lowering the Blood Alcohol Limit

CDD : Improving the system of offences and penalties : LOWERING THE BLOOD ALCOHOL LIMIT pp 19 : Par 39 : The Government is minded to make it an offence to drive with a blood alcohol limit of 50mg or over, but would be interested to have views from consultees.

Views : The limit should not be lowered to 50mg because :

(i) The benefits are doubtful, and taking the inevitable rise in pedestrian/cyclist casualties into account may even be counter productive.

(ii) The ease of prosecution drink-driving is already diverting road safety effort from potentially more productive channels. Lowering the limit will encourage even greater misuse of resources.

(iii) Of the dire effects on the economy and social life of the rural population.

(iv) Blood alcohol is an extremely inefficient way of measuring the impairment of driving skills, and better options now exist.

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Penalties for a Lower Drink Drive Limit

CDD : Improving the system of offences and penalties : PENALTIES FOR A LOWER DRINK-DRIVE LIMIT : pp 21-22 : Par 41-43

Par 43 : The Government would welcome views on whether, in the event of lowering the limit to 50mg: (a) The current 12 months period of disqualification should be retained, or (b) for offences in the 50-80mg range there should be a reduced period of disqualification, or even a lesser penalty such as a number of penalty points.

Views :

(a) The current mandatory 12 month minimum disqualification is a disgrace to British Justice and out of step with the rest of the civilised world, and should be abandoned in all drink-drive cases. It most certainly should not be extended.

(b) The reasons for not introducing the 50mg limit in the first place are so strong that discussions on sentencing should be redundant.

However, last year the Transport Minister was reported as having agreed to a 50mg limit at an EEC meeting, and later the EEC Transport Commissioner issued what appeared to be a veiled threat that the limit might be introduced by Brussels as a safety directive.

If, therefore, the lower limit is inevitable, either because of promises made or under diktat from Europe, the penalty should be at the lowest level, i.e. a non endorsable summary offence.

Further Recommendation :

The "in charge" offence should be amended to put the onus on the prosecution to prove the defendant intended to drive.

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[1] Road Accidents Great Britain (RAGB) 1996 Table 48

[2] Road Accidents Great Britain 1987 par. 3.3.3

[3] Grand Rapids Effects Revisited : Accidents, Alcohol and Risk : H. -P Kruger, J. Kazenwald & M. Vollrath : Center for Traffic Sciences, University of Wuerzburg :

[4] TRRL 149 : Everest & Jones : The drink/driving characteristics of accident involved drivers/riders.

[5] Road Accidents Great Britain 1987

[6] Road Accidents Great Britain 1996, Table 2i

[7] e.g. Table 2i pp 34 Road Accidents Great Britain 1996

[8] Road Accidents Great Britain 1989 Tables 2c & 2d

[9] TRRL Project Report 40 : J Broughton : The actual number of nonfatal drink/drive accidents

[10] TRRL The facts about drinking & driving 1985

[11] The Times, The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph, CEEFAX

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Annex A - Individual Risk

An otherwise ordinary motorist, averaging 12,000 miles a year usually drinks at home, but once a week drives five miles to his favourite pub, and then drives home at double the legal drink limit.

How long, on the average, do you think he can continue to do so before becoming involved in a fatal accident? A month?, six months, a year?

The answer is over 3,400 years

There are currently about 3,620 fatal road accidents a year, and on the average, 1.6 vehicles and drivers are involved in each, i.e. 5,800 drivers a year.

There are around 26,000,000 drivers in all in the UK and dividing by the accident involved gives an approximate average of 4,500 years per driver.

Our drinker averages out over the year at 30% above the normal risk - bringing his mean time between accidents to around 3,400 years, with the most likely victim himself.

If this seems a long time given the headline figures remember the 26 million drivers. If they only make, on average, two journeys (engine on to engine off) a day we are looking in the region of 19,000 million journeys.

A number of these will be made by Over the Limit drivers (over 100,000 loose their licences every year), and any risk, however small, when multiplied by the tens or hundreds of millions will produce large looking numbers.

However, the risk presented by any individual is very small, as is the risk to any individual. You are five times more likely to be murdered than killed by a random Over the Limit driver.

Our drinker above has a neighbour who strongly maintains that he does not drink and drive.

However, unlike the drinker, he drives 16 miles - 8 there and 8 back - to his office daily though he could go by bus, because he finds it "more convenient".

These unnecessary miles present the same "selfish" danger as the drinker.

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Tailpiece - the Media

Most official statements whether on crime, the economy, nuclear power, BSE, food safety, pollution or any other matter are subject to close and usually hostile media scrutiny, and even the slightest inconsistency has reporters climbing all over the minister concerned.

Drink-drive is the one exception as journalists are in the business of selling newspapers or increasing ratings, and good witch hunts are far more effective than balanced discussions for such purposes.

Anyone can go into print to support or contradict a particular point of view, so if newspapers choose to increase circulation by creating moral panics they should be free to do so, though the Press Council should be given powers to order that corrections to plain misstatements be made as prominently as the original statement.

Radio and television are a different story. It is a truism that political freedom is worth little without a degree of economic freedom, and similarly freedom of speech means little if one side of a debate is limited to those literally within earshot while their opposition has unlimited access to the mass media. Opening a Radio or TV station without a licence is illegal, and therefore those allowed to do so have a duty of balance and of accuracy, and several official and in-house systems have been set up to ensure this. What follows is my experiences with some of them.

The Broadcasting Complaints Commission

During 1986/7 the BBC appeared to be running a campaign, mainly on radio, for the introduction of random testing. The ground rules seemed to be that any loony with an anti-drink message was to be given his head without contradiction. I heard most of them on the car radio, which prevented note-taking, but one gem I remember was the claim that over 80% of road accidents were caused by drink - the logic being that since traces of alcohol can in some people be detected up to 48 hours after the last drink, and over 80% of motorists admitted that on some occasion they had driven within 48 hours of taking a drink.....

Letters up to Director General level did not produce even an acknowledgement (the BBC is admittedly more responsive now), so with some examples I had managed to record I complained to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of lack of balance.

The Commission acknowledged that as a drinking driver I had an interest in the matter but "concluded that you do not have sufficiently direct interest .... to enable them to entertain your complaint".

Channel 4

In 1990 Channel 4, which prides itself on reflecting minority views, invited scripts on controversial subjects for the 5 minute COMMENT slot after the 7 p.m. news. I submitted one containing a plea for the abolition of the mandatory minimum sentence for drink-driving, and restoring the power of sentencing to the courts - hardly something to frighten the horses. I was complimented on a script which met all the criteria, but urged to write on another subject as the one I had chosen "could cause offence".

This had a curious sequel. The following year, in response to a proposed new Broadcasting Bill CH4 did a series of programmes on the subject of the evils of censorship. In one a producer instanced drink-driving as a subject on which it was impossible to attain balance, as "there was no-one speaking in defence of the drinking driver". I therefore wrote pointing out that this was because such material was censored by everyone including CH4. My letter was returned unanswered.

Independent Television Commission.

In December 1994 "The Big Story" dealt with an anti-drink group who were seeking the prosecution of the passengers of drink-drivers as "accessories". The programme opened with the statement "drunk drivers kill over 600 people in Britain every year. They go to prison..."

I complained that this was a gross over-exaggeration . The latest figure for the "associated" deaths was at that time 550. Also the statement "a drunk driver killed Bill and went to prison" makes no sense if Bill was the driver concerned unless the prison doubles as a graveyard, and as we have seen in "Drink-drive Statistics" when you extract the accidents where the drinker killed himself, and those which would have happened anyway, you are down to about the 200 mark. Since the thrust of the programme was that passengers are as guilty as drivers, by its own logic we are not far from the 100.

However, even 200 was less than a third of their headline figure.

My complaint was dismissed as a "difference of opinion on the semantics".

BBC Programme Complaints Unit

In November 1995 "999 Special - No Excuses" started with "over 600 are killed by drunk drivers ... more than any other violent crime". (What causes this fixation with 600 among TV producers? Is knowledge of The Charge of the Light Brigade part of the job qualification?)

I complained of inaccuracy on the same grounds as the earlier ITV programme; i.e. 550 official, with 200 nearer the mark etc.., which is much less than the murder rate. Also, if deaths associated with the breaking of one traffic law was to be classed as "violent crime" so should those caused by other traffic law breaches - notably the 1000 or more down to speeding.

Investigations took four months, and my complaint was judged valid.

The only problem was that while the original misstatement went out to 5 million viewers the correction was buried among 49 other complaints in a report which only circulates in the BBC.

The fancy footwork when liberal views on truth, balance, or free speech come up against Political Correctness is always an amusing spectacle, and certainly "difference of opinion on the semantics" should join the canon beside "terminological inexactitude" and "economical with the truth".

Also, finding a subject too risque for Channel 4 to contemplate should be worth some sort of award, but there are serious sides to these examples.

First - accuracy. A source of information is valueless if it cannot be trusted, and after these elementary howlers and the general failure to make even the most elementary investigation into a subject as well documented as drink-drive how much can we trust any journalist?

Secondly, it is a common complaint of minorities that they cannot get air time to express their point of view, and that such reports as are made are invariably distorted. Some resent this to the extent that periodically they blow things up to get media attention

I have blown nothing up and am not likely to. However, my experience over the years of trying to put over these few elementary truths on drink-drive has left me with a great deal of sympathy with those who do.

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Wish to get in contact? Send me (Gordon Haines) an e-mail.

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Drink-driving - Why the fuss?/ Issue 9 / 25OCT/98