Policy meeting with the North Review of drink and drug driving team - 18 February 2010

Cathy Keeler, from Brake, and Amy Aeron-Thomas, from RoadPeace, met Sir Peter North and the team assisting him with the North Review of drink and drug driving.

Sir Peter clarified that Brake and RoadPeace both work with families affected by drink and drug driving, or both and asked whether that included some families that were just affected by drug-driving (rather than both). Cathy reported that of the families Brake works with who have been bereaved or injured by a driver impaired by drugs it was common to find that the drug-driver had also drunk alcohol. However, in some cases, including some of the bereaved and injured families supporting Brake’s work in Road Safety Week 2009, a drug-driver who had caused a crash had not been drinking.

Issues discussed included:

whether the current drink and drug-drive laws are effective – Cathy pointed to casualty figures and research showing that one in six road deaths involve a drink-driver and a similar number are thought to involve a drug driver. Brake believes it is a disgrace that a country that prides itself on being a road safety leader should have the highest drink-drive limit in Europe; and have failed to introduce drug-drive roadside tests;

whether the lack of effectiveness is really due to a lack of policing rather than changes needed in the law – Cathy said that better policing was needed alongside changes in the law. Low numbers of roadside breath tests and drug screening tests are carried out in Britain in comparison to many other western countries. Better equipment for police, such as evidential roadside breath tests and roadside drug tests, would help. However, to ensure that enough police resources are put into enforcing drink and drug-drive laws, we need road safety to be made a national policing priority;

whether Britain’s relatively tough penalties for drink driving (compared to countries such as Finland and Sweden) should affect the decision on whether to lower the drink-drive limit. Cathy said that Brake sees no reason why the same penalty should not apply to lower drink-drive limit given the clear Government message that drivers should not drink and drive; and research showing how little alcohol it can take to impair driving. Sir Peter agreed that it didn’t necessarily follow that penalties should be lower if the drink-drive limit was lowered;

what the drink-drive limit should be if it were to be lowered – Cathy urged Sir Peter to recommend a maximum limit of 20mg alcohol per 100ml blood, or lower, making it clear that even one drink could put drivers over the legal limit and reinforcing the Government’s THINK! campaign message ‘Don’t drink and drive’. (RoadPeace argued for a limit of 50mg alcohol per 100ml blood, in line with the current EC recommendation). The current drink-drive limit is 80mg alcohol per 100ml blood;

whether a new law on drug-driving should be based on having any impairing drug in system, or on being over a certain limit - Cathy said either option would be better than the lack of a specific law at present. Brake would favour a law banning driving on any impairing drug, to deter people from driving if they had taken an impairing drug but judged themselves to be under the ‘limit’. Sir Peter said the law would have to be very carefully phrased if it was decided that this approach should be taken, as it is currently not illegal to take drugs (only to possess or supply illegal drugs). (RoadPeace favoured a law based on drug ‘limit’, to mirror the drink-drive limit.)

Sir Peter is also looking at whether any procedural issues contribute to making drink and drug drive laws ineffective. Brake and RoadPeace mentioned time delays; police targets on testing drivers following crashes not being met; drivers being allowed to drive on bail pending a court case; and the lack of accurate STATS19 and contributory factor data (particularly on drug driving).

Cathy outlined results from Fit to Drive?, a report due to be published by Brake and Direct Line insurance in March 2010, which showed a clear public appetite for toughening up both drink and drug driving laws. She also outlined Brake’s Not a drop; not a drag campaign, launched in Road Safety Week 2009.