Drinking one glass of wine in the pub before getting behind the wheel is acceptable, transport chief Chris Grayling has suggested. The Secretary of State for Transport said the national policy on drink driving is not about “people who had a glass of wine at the pub”, but is about “people who systematically flout the law”.
Institute of Alcohol Studies director Katherine Brown, who is part of a coalition lobbying government to cut the limit, told The Independent the minister’s comments were “out of touch”.
The Conservative MP also this week rejected calls to lower the blood alcohol limit and admitted he had used a mobile phone while driving.
“We have a drink-drive problem, but it’s not people who had a glass of wine at the pub, it’s people who systematically flout the law,” said Mr Grayling. “We have a fairly thinly stretched police force and we should concentrate on catching the serious offenders.”
Campaigners say the fight against drink-drive culture has “flatlined” and want England to lower the legal limit, from 80mg of ethanol per 100ml of blood, to 50mg. Scotland broke from England in December 2014 by cutting the drink drive limit to 50mg and saw a 12.5 per cent drop in drink-drive offences within the first nine months. Britain’s Commonwealth friends of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, also exercise a 50mg limit.
Department for Transport data also shows there were an estimated 5,770 drink-driving incidents in Britain in 2015 and 8,530 injuries, compared with 5,690 and 8,270 in 2013 respectively. Drink-driving kills, on average, 240 people each year.
The festive period is notorious, and insurance specialists this week said 5 December was the most dangerous day of the year to be on the road.
The Drinkaware campaign admits that people’s individual drink-drive limit varies depending on factors such as weight, age, sex, metabolism, the type of alcohol consumed, what you’ve eaten and stress levels.
“The comments from the transport secretary appear to be out of touch with public opinion,” said Ms Brown.
A Public Health England report published last week recommended slashing the legal limit, and 77 per cent of people were in favour of toughening up the limit in a recent British Social Attitudes survey.
“As a first stop we want a common-sense approach,” added Ms Brown. “Drinking and driving are two activities that are separate. One of the reasons why people are drink driving is also because there is confusion about how much you can drink, and the clearest suggestion is not to drink anything at all. It would make everything simpler and safer.”
Epsom and Ewell MP Mr Grayling, in the interview with the Evening Standard, also said there were no plans to raise the national speed limit to 80mph or introduce pay-as-you drive road charges.
He admitted to using a mobile phone, but not texting, while driving, adding that it was “many years ago” before the dangers were understood.
The former justice secretary is also facing calls to resign today over a leaked letter over rail management sent to then London mayor Boris Johnson in 2013.
The Department for Transport refused to comment further, regarding Mr Grayling's drink-driving comments, when contacted by The Independent.
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