Transport: Tighter drinking limit ahead

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The one-pint drink- drive limit came a step closer yesterday as European transport ministers discussed ways to cut the death toll on the Continent's roads. Katherine Butler in Brussels and Randeep Ramesh look at the reasons why the law will change.

British ministers yesterday signalled broad support for plans for a new European-wide drink-drive limit of 50 mg per 100 ml. The proposal, tabled by Neil Kinnock, the transport commissioner, is a key plank of a campaign to cut Europe's 45,000 annual road deaths.

The new level, dubbed "more than one and you're done", will mean drivers could safely sink only one pint of beer or two glasses of wine.

Officially the Government will only say that it is "looking at the proposal very seriously". But ministers pointed out that Tony Blair signalled his support indirectly for road safety schemes by praising the work of the former Labour transport minister Barbara Castle, who introduced the breathalyser 30 years ago.

The Prime Minister said the country owed a "huge debt" to Baroness Castle for the initiatives she pioneered to improve transport safety.

Although considerably lower than the present British limit of 80 mg per 100 ml, a maximum intake of 50 mg per 100 ml is already the mark permitted in France, Holland, Austria and Greece.

Britain has the lowest road accident death rate in the European Union: roads in the UK are seven times safer than in Greece - the country with the worst record. Welcoming the move from brussels, Gavin Strang, the transport minister, said it "dovetailed neatly" with the Government's own commitment to road safety measures which may include a lower drink- driving limit.

Mr Kinnock is hoping that the reaction to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, will boost chances of agreement. Since Diana's death, he told ministers yesterday, 4 000 other Europeans have been killed in road accidents, many of them drink related.

Motoring organisations remain unconvinced. David Worskett, a spokesman for the RAC, said: "Research suggests that the blood alcohol level in convictions for drink-drivers is almost 50 per cent higher than the legal limit. The real priority is to target these core offenders," said David Worskett, a spokesman for the RAC.