RAC tepid on new drink-drive limit

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Proposals to reduce the drink-drive limit to a level equivalent to a single pint of beer were given a luke-warm reception yesterday from an unexpected quarter - the RAC.

In line with an election promise, Labour is conducting a review of drinking and driving policy.

The Department of Transport confirmed yesterday that a cut in the permitted level from 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood to 50mg was being considered.

"We are looking at a number of options to improve road safety including a reduction in drink-driving," said a spokeswoman. "It is being considered whether the present blood-alcohol level might be lowered."

But the RAC said that an option to slash the permitted level by almost half would make little difference to safety on the road.

Although no firm decisions on levels or timescales for their introduction have been made, the police and the British Medical Association have welcomed the review. The RAC, however, reacted without enthusiasm.

"If the Government really wanted to have an impact on drinking and driving, there's a lot more it could do than fiddling with the limits," said Edmund King, a spokesman for the RAC. "All the research shows that serious offenders aren't a little bit over the limit; they're three or four times over. These kinds of people don't have a problem with driving, they have a problem with drinking, and they're unlikely to be deterred by lower limits."

Instead of lowering limits or increasing penalties, the RAC would like the Government to extend a voluntary scheme introduced two years ago whereby offenders were given lower sentences in return for attending alcohol rehabilitation classes. Offenders are taught about the effects of alcohol on their driving, perception and reflexes - and graphically shown the consequences of accidents caused by drinking and driving.

"Rates of re-offending on these courses have been cut by about 50 per cent," said Mr King. "If money were provided to make these courses compulsory, we believe we would see a real reduction in the problem."

The British Medical Association said that it would support a cut to 50mg. "This is based on scientific evidence indicating that at about that level the dangers to drivers and road users begins to increase," a spokesman said.

In Australia, where the level was recently reduced to 50mg, there has been a 12 per cent cut in alcohol-related accidents.