Should the drink driving limit be lowered? A personal view

Group of friends drinking large beers
Which one is the Des?

I am regularly asked… well often… sometimes?  Okay, okay… I’ve been asked two or three times whether I think that they drink driving limit should be lowered to match the Scottish limit or even dropped to zero.

Obviously as I am a solicitor who represents an awful lot of drink drivers through London Drink Driving Solicitor and Oxford DrinkDriving Solicitor, everybody assumes that I have a vested interest in keeping the limit where it is and making sentences less onerous on drink drivers – presumably because they see me as the drink driver’s friend.  I am sure that this is the reason they ask me: everybody knows drink drivers are evil (link to blog) so when they meet me they assume they can start a debate (or maybe have an excuse to shout at me).  Let’s get one thing out of the way: I don’t feel like I have a vested interest in where the drink driving limit is set!  Murder, rape and drugs are illegal and people are in court for all three every day of the week.  I seriously doubt that reducing the drink driving limit would have a catastrophic effect on my business and, if drink driving were eliminated overnight then great.  I’ll go do something else.

The truth is that I don’t really have a strong opinion one way or the other.  I think that if there is good evidence that supports moving the drink driving limit then move it.  If the evidence says raise it (which it doesn’t) then go up… if it says drop it to zero then drop it to zero.  By the way, I have previously predicted thatEngland and Wales will drop the limit to match that of Scotland and I still think that is inevitable.

Currently, the limit in blood in England and Wales is 80 milligrams per 100 ml of blood.  The Centresfor Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the USA says that a 72.6kg man will reach this level after about 2 and a half pints of 5% beer.  At that level they predict that you will have impaired perception, reduced information processing capability, poorer ability to control speed, a lack of concentration, you will struggle to detect danger and your judgment, self-control, reasoning and memory all become impaired.

My own experience suggests that many people will not notice any of these things.  I can certainly say that I have had a higher alcohol level and felt absolutely fine.  But, that may be because alcohol begins to impair your judgment at just 20 milligrams per 100 ml of blood and at around 50 milligrams you will begin to get that good feeling even as your judgment, inhibition and ability to detect danger all ebb away.

Most of my clients are not persistent drink drivers – I’ve had a few but they are very much in the minority.  The overwhelming majority are people who have absolutely no understanding of how alcohol affects them and at what level they will be over the drink driving limit.  None of them want to cause any harm – in fact among my clients are doctors who spend their days saving the lives of small children with nasty diseases and school teachers who want the best for their kids.

It is quite possible that a zero alcohol limit would make clear to people like that that they should not be consuming any alcohol before driving.  But, I’m not so sure because a very common theme among people I meet is that they leave a gap between their drinking and their driving.  Very few of the people I meet go direct from pub to car.  Would the doctor who had a couple of glasses of wine with his lunch while celebrating some new funding for his department really think he’d still be over the limit some hours later when he goes home?  There are already plenty of people who are convicted for drink driving the morning after drinking the previous evening.  Will reducing the limit stop them?

I’m all for taking action that will reduce the number of people who are killed or injured on the roads provided the action is being taken for the right reasons, i.e. because it is likely to work.  All too often, decisions are made in criminal law on the basis of politician’s logic: something must be done, this is something, let’s do that.


  1. The trouble is that "alcohol level" is not a perfect measure of driving competence. A hardened drinker will remain safe to drive with a blood alcohol content much higher than an occasional drinker. Likewise, with the same intoxication level, a very experienced driver will remain safe while a novice becomes a danger to others.

    So the underlying question boils down, as it so often does, to how much inconvenience should we inflict on some to protect ourselves from others?

    1. And why should alcohol be singled out, when lots of other things have similar effects on driving competence? Fatigue, cannabis, many prescription medications…

  2. Um, you're off by a factor of 1,000. The English limit is 80 milligrams per 100 ml of blood, not 80 micrograms.


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