Drivers to face one-pint limit

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The Independent Online
THE DRINK-DRIVE limit is to be lowered to the equivalent of only one pint of beer in a new campaign to cut the number of alcohol-related deaths on the roads.

The Government is poised to push ahead in the autumn with plans to reduce the legal limit and bring the UK into line with other European Union countries. The move, expected to be announced at the Labour party conference next month, will target the small number of motorists who persistently ignore government warnings about drinking and driving.

The legal limit is likely to be cut from 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood to just 50 milligrams, effectively setting the maximum level of alcohol at just one pint, or two glasses of wine.

Anti drink-drive campaigners have long argued that the current limit is too vague as motorists know they can drink between one and two pints and avoid prosecution. The new limit is to form a centrepiece of the Government's new Road Safety Strategy, to be published in the autumn, and will be accompanied by measures to give police greater enforcement powers and new rehabilitation schemes for offenders.

Campaigns to cut drink-driving have been highly successful in recent years, with the number of alcohol-related deaths falling from 1,643 in 1979 to 540 in 1995. However, ministers are known to be concerned that the figures have not come down any further in the past three years.

The Department of Transport refused to confirm that the one-pint limit had been agreed, but it is understood that ministers are committed to using the groundswell of public support on the issue to push through the plan.

The new strategy follows months of consultation with the drinks industry, motoring organisations and safety groups. Brewers have tried to block moves to lower the limit, claiming it would cost them millions in lost income with negligible impact on accidents.

Baroness Hayman, formerminister for roads, was the main backer of the idea and some campaigners were worried that her recent move to the Department of Health had killed the plan. Her replacement, Lord Whitty, and the newly appointed Transport Minister, Dr John Reid, have now made clear that they are as equally enthusiastic about the new limit. A spokesman for the DoT said that the new strategy would address the "hard core" of drink-drivers, most of whom are either young or middle-aged men. "The figures have come down, but 540 deaths a year still represent 10 people a week dying in accidents that are preventable," he said. "Injuries are caused where motorists are driving within the legal limit, but their driving ability is still impaired."

A recent survey of Automobile Association members found 80 per cent in favour of a reduction of the limit. An AA spokeswoman said: "The limit should be lowered, but there should also be targeting of persistent offenders by giving the police powers in law to enforce the limit."