Drivers face drink limit being cut to one pint of beer across Europe

Less than a month after the crash which killed Diana, Princess of Wales, the EU transport commissioner, Neil Kinnock, wants to toughen drink-driving laws. Katherine Butler reports.
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The Independent Online
Britain would be forced to limit motorists to around one pint of beer or two glasses of wine under legislation being prepared by the European Commission. If a majority of European Union governments backs the plan, the legal limit for alcohol in the blood will be harmonised at 50mg per 100ml throughout the bloc. The present legal limit in the United Kingdom is 80mg.

The transport commissioner Neil Kinnock will outline details of the legislation to Europe's transport ministers when they meet in Luxembourg on 9 October with a formal proposal likely to be voted on by the end of the year. It could be agreed by a qualified majority of member states and the Government would be unable to block it without finding allies.

Similar proposals tabled 10 years ago were rejected but the latest plan may have more success coming in the wake of the publicity surrounding the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, whose French driver had been drinking heavily before the fatal crash, although a spokesman was keen to point out that Mr Kinnock had decided to push for an EU-wide limit before the tragedy.

France already has a 50mg blood alcohol limit for drivers but research available to the European Commission shows that countries with the strictest drink-driving curbs have succeeded in bringing down fatalities.

Mr Kinnock said that his initiative responded directly to this research. "Drink-driving kills. If statistics show that we could significantly reduce road deaths by imposing a blood alcohol limit of 50mg then we have a duty to suggest it," he said. Mr Kinnock is also responding to pressure from road-safety campaigners who have called for a 50mg blood alcohol limit to be the centrepiece of a package of EU measures to stem the toll of 45 000 annual road deaths in the community. The commission says research indicates that up to 40 per cent of those killed each year could be saved if drivers stuck to the 50mg limit. The European Transport Safety Council is also pressing the commission to set an even tougher 20mg limit for new drivers.

EU officials anticipate some resistance to harmonisation from those member states who claim that Brussels should leave road-safety legislation to national governments. This was the argument that scuppered attempts to standardise drink-driving rules in 1988.

But since then, they say, a strong body of evidence has evolved to back the link between very low blood alcohol limits enforced by legislation, and reducing the number of fatal accidents on the roads.

Britain would be one of seven EU countries where the law on drink-driving would have to be toughened if the proposals won backing. However, opponents of the scheme will point to figures also released by Mr Kinnock's office showing that Britain's roads are the safest in the union. Seven other countries already have a 50mg limit while Swedish law goes even further, limiting motorists to 20mg per 100ml.

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