Just one, and no more than one, for the road one - for the road

Alcohol and petrol are an inflammatory mixture. Anyone who flicks the ignition after more than a glass of wine should be prosecuted, fined, banned from driving, and in the worst cases imprisoned - Leading article page 11
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The Independent Online
Police chiefs are poised to call for tougher laws on drink- driving, bringing a new "one-pint" limit a step closer.

The move will increase the pressure on the Government, which is already facing campaigns from doctors and the anti-alcohol lobby to lower the amount that motorists can legally drink.

The Independent understands that next week the chief constables of England and Wales will give the campaign fresh momentum by supporting a reduction from 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood to 50mg.

For most drivers, 50mg would mean a maximum of only one pint of beer, or two glasses of wine or whisky. Offenders would face a minimum one-year ban and heavy fines.

Last year about 600 people were killed on British roads by motorists over the limit.

Until now, the Government has resisted calls for a reduction, arguing that a change would have little effect, even though their own figures suggest about 14 lives a year could be saved.

Police chiefs in Scotland backed the lower 50mg limit in November, but ministers will find it harder to shrug off the views of the 43 forces in England and Wales.

Their officers see the damage caused by alcohol and they would have to enforce any change in the law. A police source said: "Many in the police service believe the time has come for a change, and that if just one life is saved, it is worthwhile."

The Labour Party has pledged to review the drink- drive limit and yesterday criticised the Government's "failure to reconsider the issue".

The traffic committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) has surveyed all forces in England and Wales on whether the limit should be reduced. It will debate the issue next Wednesday. The Independent understands that while there is strong support for lowering the level to 50mg, an alternative suggestion to lower the limit to zero has been ruled out.

The committee will hear that lowering the level from 80mg to 50mg reduces the likelihood of an accident by up to 40 per cent. Any decision will need to be ratified at a full council meeting.

Chief Inspector Paul McElroy, staff officer of David Williams, Surrey's Chief Constable and chairman of the Acpo traffic committee, said: "We feel it is time to reconsider the levels. Our stance has always been you should not drink and drive. We still believe that, but we are now looking at what effect a 50mg limit could have.

"There's convincing evidence that a reduction would reduce accidents and the number of people who drink and drive. But it will not affect the real problem drinkers who ignore all warnings."

Earlier this year, forces in England and Wales began automatic breath tests in all traffic accidents to which a police officer was called. There is also growing support for similar road-side drug tests.

The number of drink-related road deaths fell dramatically in England and Wales from 1,650 in 1979 to 540 in 1993. But now it has started to rise again. There were 540 in 1994 and 580 last year.

There were 15,000 road deaths and injuries in 1994 in which at least one driver was over the limit. Police chiefs in Scotland said a reduction to 50mg would have prevented 213 serious accidents between 1988 and 1993.

Last month, the British Medical Association, the all-party Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, and Alcohol Concern produced a report calling for the limit to be lowered to the 50mg level.

It said a reduction in the blood-alcohol limit in Australia from 80mg to 50mg, combined with random breath-testing, had dramatically reduced drink-driving among both moderate and heavy drinkers and had cut the number of accidents.

Surveys have shown there is public support for a lower drink-driving limit, the report said. Seven of the 15 countries in the European Union have limits of 50mg or less.

However, the Department of Transport has rejected any change and argues that research suggests a drop to 50mg would prevent only about 2.5 per cent of fatal drink-drive accidents.

A DoT spokesman said: "We have a system which people understand and accept.

"Ministers believe we have had enormous success in reducing accidents and we do not want to break up a winning formula." But he added that the issue was under constant review.

The first breath tests with the current 80mg level were introduced in 1967.

Leading article, page 11

Europe's laws on drinking and driving

Permitted blood alcohol in brackets (MG/100 ml):

Belgium (50): Maximum fine pounds 1,913; disqualification for 5 years; imprisonment up to 6 years.

Denmark (80): Maximum fine 4 per cent of driver's income; maximum disqualification one year; imprisonment up to 2 years.

France (50): Maximum fine pounds 386; disqualifications three months to life; imprisonment up to 2 years.

Italy (80): Maximum fine pounds 215; disqualifications up to 3 months; maximum imprisonment one month.

Spain (80): Maximum fine from pounds 1,292 to pounds 5,170; disqualifications up to 5 years; imprisonment only in cases where bodily harm has been caused.

Sweden (20): Maximum fine 120 days' wages; disqualification proportional to concentration of alcohol in the driver's blood.

Ireland (80): Maximum fine pounds 1,044; mandatory driving ban for 12 months.