Lowering Scotland drink-drive limit 'has had virtually no impact on number of offences'

Exclusive: Government says lack of spike proves behaviour has changed

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The Independent Online

The introduction of a lower drink-drive limit in Scotland has had virtually no impact on the rates of offending, police statistics have revealed.

Police Scotland figures for the first three months of this year show that officers recorded 1,337 offences relating to drink and drug driving – only a slight reduction in the 1,388 noted in the same period last year, before the lower limit was introduced.

The new law, which came into force in December, reduced the legal alcohol limit for Scottish motorists from 80mg to 50mg in every 100ml of blood. Drivers were warned that having “no alcohol at all” is the only way to ensure they stay within the limit – and to avoid planning car journeys for the morning after a night drinking.

Responding to the new figures, the Scottish Government said the lack of a sudden spike in drink-drive offences proved that people’s behaviour had changed. Ministers were previously told that police expected to catch around a third more drink-drivers if the public did not adjust their drinking levels to fit the new rules.

However, critics of the new law have said it merely penalises sensible drinkers and is harming Scotland’s pub and restaurant industry, as many people are now wary of touching alcohol at all. In April, the Bank of Scotland’s chief economist Donald MacRae said the country’s hospitality industry was suffering due to a “changing pattern of spending” by customers as a result of the lower limit.

Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said the new figures proved that “people will adhere to the law”, but that pubs would continue to suffer until penalties for drivers with low levels of alcohol in their blood were reduced. “People just aren’t coming into pubs any more – and it’s all to do with them being frightened by these penalties,” he said. At present, a driver with only residual alcohol in their bloodstream can still face a criminal record.

Superintendent Fraser Candlish, of Police Scotland’s road policing division, said the new limit had proved to be a “good deterrent” in stopping people drink-driving. But he added: “It is still unacceptable that a minority chose to ignore all the advice and warnings and get behind the wheel after consuming alcohol. They are not just risking their lives but also those of other road users and pedestrians.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “It is extremely encouraging to see that the number of drink driving offences fell in the first quarter since the lower limit came into force in Scotland. These statistics show that the new lower limit has helped to make our roads safer while bringing Scotland into line with almost every other country in Europe.

“We are determined to end the tragedy of deaths caused by drink driving, and if this new law saves one life, then it will be a success. The aim of the lower drink drive limit has always been to result in less drink driving, not more people convicted. Alcohol at any level impairs driving, which is why our message is if you’re driving, the best approach is none.”