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A Wee Drama – Scotland’s new drink driving limits

James Watkins - Law on the Web

  1. 09 January 2015
  2. Cars and Motoring
  3. 0 comments
Whisky and keys

The drink driving limit in Scotland is now lower than in the rest of the UK – anyone caught driving in Scotland with 22mg or more of alcohol per 100ml of breath will be in trouble. This is reduced from 35mg, the same limit still in effect in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Limits for alcohol in blood and urine have also been reduced – the limits are now 50mg of alcohol (reduced from 80mg) per 100ml of blood and 67mg of alcohol (reduced from 107mg) per 100ml of urine.

The change was unanimously approved by the Scottish Parliament, and came in to effect on the 8th December 2014. Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill said that the lower limit would “bring Scotland into line with most of Europe and hopefully reduce drink drive arrests and prosecutions”.

He also resisted calls to reduce the penalties for drink driving, saying that a driving ban was still an “appropriate” punishment for drunk drivers, even under the new lower limits.

Has the change reduced drink driving?

The new limit had an immediate impact, with four drivers being caught over the limit within six hours of the change coming in to effect.

One would assume that the lower limit would result in more drivers being caught driving with too much drink in their system – however, police figures indicate that the lower limit convinced more people that driving after a drink is not worth the risk.

During the final three weeks of December, following the change, 255 people stopped and tested by police were found to be under the influence of drink or drugs. This was down a third from the same period in 2013, when 348 people were caught under the influence.

It was also reported in the new year that a man had been stopped by police for piloting a space hopper down a dual carriageway in Dundee while under the influence – however, this is unlikely to be related to the new lower limit, due to the law’s continued refusal to recognise the space hopper as a vehicle. Fortunately for the man – and his inflatable steed – police took no formal action.

Should the limit be lowered elsewhere in the UK?

The drink driving limits in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland are among the highest in Europe – only Malta matches the 80mg limit of the rest of the UK.

With the implementation of the lower limit in Scotland, there have been calls for the rest of the UK to follow suit. Northern Ireland officials are considering lowering their limit to match Scotland’s, but the government has resisted calls to lower the limit in England and Wales, stating that lowering the breath limit to 50mg would not actually make the roads any safer.

The Scottish government disagrees, as do the public – 74% of respondents to a consultation on the subject in 2013 were in favour of reducing the drink driving limit.

The reduction of the limit would no doubt be viewed by some as a cynical attempt by the government to generate more money through fines – however, a limit of 50mg would still be more lenient than those of other countries in Europe.

Sweden, Poland and Estonia all have a 20mg limit in place, while Slovakia, Romania, Hungary and the Czech Republic actually have an outright ban, with any trace above 0mg per 100ml of blood being illegal.

Other countries have different limits for different circumstances – Germany, for example, usually has a limit of 50mg, but this drops to 30mg if the driver is involved in an accident. They also have a limit of 0mg for drivers who have less than two years of experience or are under 21.

You can read more about drink driving, including the limits, fines, and driving bans in our drink driving section.

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