By Bob Duncan
The Scottish Government has announced that it will consider lowering the drink driving limit from 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood to 50mg, in line with current limits in twenty four other European countries.
Moves to reduce the drink driving limit in Scotland have been backed by the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents and the launch of a consultation by the Scottish Government has been hailed as a major step forward by Dave Thompson SNP MSP who has campaigned extensively on the issue.
Thompson has pressed for the power to take this action to be devolved for several years and the recent passage of the Scotland Act now gives the Scottish Government the opportunity to act on this issue.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said the plans to lower the drink-driving limit in Scotland have the broad support of the public and will help to save lives. “We think in Scotland that this consultation will show that the vast majority of people want this,” he said.
“I think we’re expecting support around the chamber. Although it’s being driven by the SNP Government, we know that other parties are with us on this. We’ve got these powers, we’re acting to save lives. If we had more powers, I think we’d save more lives.”
MacAskill poured scorn the suggestion that creating a difference with England may confuse motorists. “People just have to get on with it,” he said. “We don’t anticipate any difficulties, and if there are any difficulties I’ve had assurances from chief police officers that we’ll put big signs up at the border.”
The power to set drink-driving limits was among those transferred from Westminster to Holyrood this year under the revised Scotland Act. Further powers to vary penalties or allow random testing were requested by the Scottish Government but were refused.
In 2010, Westminster’s Transport Committee recommended against setting an interim level at 50mg, arguing instead for a police crackdown and education campaign. MPs said that taking the limit to an even lower level would be too great a step “at this stage”.
Deputy Chief Constable Tom Ewing, who leads on road policing for the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, backed the plan. He said the proposed 50mg limit would mean people could have no more than one drink before driving, but added: “The message should be: don’t drink and drive.
Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland QC said: “As prosecutors, we know from bitter experience the misery and suffering that driving under the influence can cause. “It all too often results in serious injury or loss of life, with around 10 per cent of the deaths on Scottish roads involving drivers who are over the legal limit.”
Dave Thompson MSP said: “There can be no doubt that lowering the drink drive limit will save lives, as a more sensible limit will deter people from drinking before driving.
“For years successive UK Governments have dragged their feet and failed to take action as fatalities take place on our roads as a direct result of current drink driving laws. Now I am delighted to say that the Scottish Government has the chance to right this wrong, and make our roads significantly safer.
“If a limit of 50mg is the right level for twenty four other European countries then it is hard to see how anyone can say it is not also right for us.
“The Scottish Government has made commendable progress on this issue and the launch of this consultation is a major step forward for everyone who wants to see more sensible drink driving legislation.”
“Of course we could do even more if the UK Government had not refused to devolve the more extensive powers to tackle drink driving which the Scottish Government sought, but progress on the one new power which has been devolved is welcome.