One for the road? Not in Scotland as Alex Salmond cuts drink-drive limit

SNP leader reveals new plans to introduce tougher laws more in line with rest of Europe

Scotland is to diverge dramatically from the rest of the United Kingdom by introducing the toughest drink-drive laws in the country, ministers will announce later today.

Under the new plans, anyone caught driving in Scotland after even a half pint of beer could face prosecution, conviction and the loss of a driving licence.

Scottish ministers want to split with the rest of the UK and bring Scotland into line with mainland Europe, where drink-drive laws are generally much tougher than they are in Britain.

Indeed, only the UK and Malta have a drink-drive limit as high as 80mg per 100ml of blood – equivalent to about a pint of beer.

All the other EU countries have limits of, at most, 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood and some are even tougher with zero limits, particularly for new motorists and heavy goods vehicle drivers.

Scottish ministers have admitted privately that it suits the Scottish National Party (SNP) government's separatist agenda to ally Scotland more with Europe than with the rest of Britain.

They know that if there is a noticeable difference in something like the drink-drive laws between Scotland and England, then it can only increase the sense of general difference between the countries and stretch the bonds between them still further.

But ministers are also aware of the need to crack down on Scotland's appalling record with alcohol. Despite a slight fall this year, Scots still drink, on average, about 20 per cent more than those in the rest of the UK.

The SNP administration has already announced plans to introduce a minimum price for alcohol in an effort to curb binge drinking and the new drink-drive limit is part of this assault on Scotland's destructive relationship with booze.

Significantly though, the Scottish government has only had the power to change the drink-drive limits for a few months – it was handed over earlier this year as part of the Scotland Act.

Holyrood observers believe it is no surprise that the SNP government has decided to move so quickly on something that will reinforce the differences between Scotland and the rest of the UK so clearly.

Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Secretary, will unveil his proposals to reduce the drink-drive limit in Scotland by more than a third later today. A spokesman for Mr MacAskill said: "All the evidence shows that alcohol-related road deaths drop dramatically where the limit has been reduced to more accurately reflect when the effects of drinking impairs driving.

"The current limit just leaves too much room for confusion and sadly we are still seeing hundreds of drivers each year ignore the warnings and putting lives at risk through drinking and driving; it is reckless and totally unacceptable.

"The consequences can be devastating for victims and their families – our proposed changes will mean that drink drivers are left with no excuses."

A total of 16 European countries – including Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, France and Germany – have 50mg limits.

A few, including Romania and Slovakia, have zero limits while others, like Slovenia and Italy, have small limits for ordinary drivers and zero limits for newly qualified motorists.

The move has already been welcomed by anti-drink-drive campaigners. Brake, the road-safety charity, said it was a good move and urged the UK Government to follow the Scottish government's lead while the Campaign against Drinking and Driving said a 50mg limit was a start on the way to lowering the limit still further.

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