55 5 mins 10 yrs

Should be 0n the BBC Nolan Show tomorrow morning, all things being equal, to debate the draconian proposal from Minister Alex Attwood to further reduce the amount of alcohol a person can have in their system whilst driving. Here are some key thoughts;

1. Attwood is doing this to bring NI into line with EU legislation, plain and simple. It would also harmonise NI law on this issue with that of the Republic whilst separating it from the rest of the UK. I’m sure Nationalist Mr Attwood will not miss the constitutional significance of that. Nor did I. At a time when Euroland is in crisis, his enthusiasm for Euro-legislating is touching. The rest of the UK is keeping current limits. Are we saying that they do not care about road deaths resulting from drinking alcohol?

2. On the FACTS, as opposed to the emotions, can someone please explain to me how many of the 75 deaths attributed to drink drivers over the past 5 years were caused by those having between 50ml-79mg/1oom ml of blood? If there is a causal link, I am interested. If not, then on what basis is this lowering proposed? I know that groups like the BMA and NICE support this reduction but it’s interesting to read their repeated use of the word “may” in their recommendations. They don’t seem to avoid “may not”.

3. This legislation will criminalise a whole new group of people. Suppose you go out for a meal of an evening. You do not drive because there is a nominated driver.  You have a couple of glasses of wine with a meal and that is it. Next day, under the legislation proposed, the Police randomly stop you as you drive to work. (In itself this is a further advance of State power and removal of individual liberty). You show that you have 5omg/100ml blood in your system. You’re nicked, pal – off to jail with you. Suppose you just stay at home one evening and have a few bottles of beer. Next day – your blood levels are still raised. You’r nicked, if caught for the sin of drinking at home. So the only way to prevent such an outcome is stop drinking entirely. First they came for the smokers, and now they are coming for the  drinkers. It’s what Nanny State does, it’s all the NI Executive is capable of doing.

4. WHY should the PSNI be granted the right to stop any citizen who is driving in a lawful and careful manner? Is Stop and Search law OK when it comes to drivers but not thugs on the street? I seem to recall the SDLP opposing this sort of draconian resort when it was employed against street crime, but is it now OK when applied to drivers?

5. I understand 40% of all drink-driving accidents involve those people 40% OVER the 80mg/100ml limit. How are these culprits affected by this new draconian law? They’re  not. So, the worst offenders carry on regardless. Speed cameras do not catch these fools, so we would do better to have more proactive traffic policing specifically targeting  erratic driving.

6. How many accidents are caused by people using their mobile phones? How many accidents are caused by people out of their heads on drugs? Howe many accidents are caused by plain carelessness? Shall we ban the use of mobile phones – hand-free or otherwise? Shall we introduce a law to stop people listening to music whilst they drive as some allege that causes distraction?

7. Haven’t Attwood other things to be doing rather than increasing the power of the State, strengthening the power of the State Agencies, criminalising an entire class of people whose sin may be to have a glass of wine with their meal AT HOME? That’s a rhetorical question.

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55 thoughts on “THE DRINK-DRIVE DEBATE

  1. Excellent points David. This is ill thought-out legislation, but no doubt it will be nodded through.

    I expect that a New York style ban on smoking in the open air will soon follow.

  2. If you still have 5oml/100ml blood in your system the next morning, you’re lucky to be alive, and would be useless in the workplace the next day anyway.

    The blood levels aren’t an exact science. But there should be a standard, and I want it to be set low.

    The rights of the drinkers should take a back seat to the rights of the non drinkers on the public road. Those roads belong to all.

  3. By the way, I don’t particularly endorse the kooky Europeanism of doing alcohol testing the following morning trying to catch folks with trace alcohol. I’ve never heard of such tactics used here.

    Anyone with that much booze in the blood the next morning for Christs sake deserves to be busted ten times over, but I’m not sure that this is a tactic that needs to be used.

  4. The level has to be set somewhere and 50mg/100mls is not unreasonable. Our limit of 80mg/100mls is high when compared with many other countries (not just in the EU) and I really cannot think of a strong argument against lowering it.

    That said, I agree with the rest of your post David. T

  5. Thanks Matt – appreciate that. As regards the lowering below 80mls, if I could be shown stats to prove this would save lives I would go with it. I have checked out the BMA and they are very vague on the facts and I suspect they are just lobbying.

  6. 1. I don’t think anyone has suggested that the rest of the UK isn’t concerned about deaths. The BMA supported the paln as the reprot of Sir peter North suggests it would save 168 lives in the first year it is implemented.

    2. The lowering of the level is the same as lowerign a speed limit, some will drive well in excess of any speed limit just as some will drink well in excess of an alcohol limit. The consideration is not for the extreme behavior (which is already punishable) but for a safe standard for all.

    3. No one is criminalized by legislation, they are criminalized if they violate it (by driving when over the alcohol limit). If one has 50ml/100/ml in their system the next day, certainly that is not the result of one pint or one glass of wine the night before.

    As an aside, I understand people want to make their points when the use phrase “first they came for the ____, then they came for _____ “, but i’d suggest it is a bit off even if unintenional to use holocaust metaphors for legislation of this kind.

    4. I don’t think the police should have the right to stop anyone individually if they have no reasonable basis for doing so.

    5. The worst culprits of crime aren’t effected by the minimum standard. This is proably true of the current standard, but i am sure no one is suggesting it be raised?

    6. There should be laws directed at texting or non-hands free mobile phone use while driving.

    7. it isn’t a rhetorical question. And the law does not criminalize people who have one glass of wine in their homes. The Minister is well within his brief on this topic.

  7. The more alcohol in your blood, the slower your reflexes etc. No argument. Absolute blood alcohol levels however are not necessarily an indicator of impairment, i.e. a person with 50mg/100mls could in theory be more impaired than another with 100mg/mls.

    We in this country have decided that 80mg/100mls is a “safe” limit and other countries have decided on 50mg/100mls.

    There is no such thing as a “safe” limit. Again there should be no argument. It follows therefore that 50mg/100mls makes more sense than 100mg/100mls.

    If the limit is set too low, then there is the danger of people being banned from driving with the possibility of losing their livelihoods who are in no way alcohol abusers or irresponsible, especially with overzealous policing targeted at the wrong drivers.

  8. The larger issue is the cultural one. It has to be made culturally unacceptable to drink and drive. That is more important than any and all laws, important as they are.

    That change is very well underway in this country, aided by organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving who helped make this such a prominent issue.

  9. Mahons,

    OK – here we go;

    1. The BMA “suggest” this. He says it “could” save 168 lives. On what empirical basis?
    2. On what basis is 50ml selected rather than, say 60ml or 40ml, or indeed 20ml? If it is alleged to save lives, why not set it to zero?
    3. Given that a 20ml/100ml is possible by simply using the likes of a mouthwash, on what basis do you conclude that a single glass of wine drank the evening before could not lead to a 50ml/100ml result, thus ensuring a person is indeed criminalised?
    4. Agreed on that anyway
    5. Why focus on the prudent and ignore the worst culprits?
    6. Agreed.
    7. Nanny Staters is what the SDLP is all about. Their highwater mark in recent times was forcing people to wear helmets when cycling. The question was entirelty rhetorical.

  10. ” On what basis is 50ml selected rather than, say 60ml or 40ml, or indeed 20ml?”

    Its reasonable to assume that there was scientific/medical input into deciding limits but I suspect that the final figures came about as a “best guess”.

  11. Especially in a place with national health, you SHOULD be forced to wear a motorcycle helmet. ( as does most of the US )

    Unless you sign a waiver saying that the state is not obligated to care for you should you smash your fool head on the very hard highway. And get all your relatives to co sign it. No care of any kind.

    Helmets are required for good reason – they save lives.

    And ( in the US anyway ) driving is not a right. It is a privilege.

    The world has rules, lads. It’s hardly a tyranny to require you to employ minimal safety equipment.

    The things people get hepped up about.

  12. ” It’s hardly a tyranny to require you to employ minimal safety equipment.”

    Of course you are right Phantom but where does State interference stop? Should the State mandate in every aspect of our lives?

  13. This seems to me right down the middle of what is appropriate for the state to do.

    It’s been law in lots of places for many decades.

    And its the law in many of the most conservative parts of the US – Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina )

    Again, if the biker wants to sign away his right to all care, and if he wants his body thrown into the nearest dumpster in the case of any head injury, I’m cool with that.

    If that’s all he thinks of his body, then bully for him. We will to to an anti-society all in the name of so called freedom.

  14. So where should State interference stop? Should the State legislate to prevent us from indulging in any activity, (considered by the “Great and the Good”), to be bad for us?

  15. No, it shouldn’t.

    But for things like riding a powered vehicle on the road – something that requires a license and something that no one has an unfettered right to do – should be subject to obeying the minimal rules.

    Everyone has their own lines in the sand, this is one of mine, and it’s not a close call.

  16. Matt – no, the test is usually what is reasonable and necessary.

    David – I think it takes about an hour for the body per drink, so if you have one glass of alcohol at dinner and it is still in your body at breakfast, you’ve had more than one drink. As for the numbers they are apparently published and I am unaware of conflicting data.

  17. I’ve long supported an end to the pointless prohibition on most recreational drugs.

    That is an important issue – the war that cannot be won is destroying many countries, including our own.

    That is an important issue. Motorcycle helmet requirements is not even close to being an important issue as compared with the nanny state war on drugs.

  18. Phantom – I am in perfect agreement with you concerning cycle helmets!

    Mahons – “the test is usually what is reasonable and necessary”. Yes, but in whose opinion? Politicians? Special Interest Groups? Loud Mouth Celebrities? “Experts”? Lawyers?

  19. Matt – A legislative consensus usually forms around the collective wisdom of credible expert evidence on issues of health and safety issues, tempered by what is politically possible. Hence we don’t let stores sell cigarettes to children, although we allow them to be sold to adults because a ban on all sales (though the best thing from a health standpoint) is not politically feasible.

  20. Mahons

    The ability to process varies on an individual basis so you cannot claim that IF you take a glass of wine the night before it is safe to drive the next day. Interestingly, if you are right, and I have a glass of wine at the start of my meal and then take an hour to eat, are you suggesting it is safe to drive one hour later? Just asking.

  21. Britain aleady has the safest roads in the world bar a couple of microstates, I don’t see the pressing need to reduce the limit.

    Yes alcohol does diminish driving ability but when they reduce it as much as they propose they will end up simply criminalising people who didn’t get drunk and go for a drive but people who maybe have had a quick drink but marginally misjudged their sobering up time.

  22. David – The process varies on an individual basis due to gender, weight etc. but like everything else we use averages, and the average person is the key.

    If you are asking me is it safe to drive one hour after a glass of wine, I’d say it is less safe than if you didn’t have it.

  23. Glad to read that the Association of British Drivers shares my view. Glad to see the UK Government shares my view. Still, Attwood knows best, that’s what I say!

  24. The Association of British Drivers is fairly well known for its views on any legislation effecting car drivers (they no likey).

    As for the UK government, there have taken a perfectly resaonable position as has Mr. Attwood. people can reasonably disagree on the best course of action on things.

  25. “A legislative consensus usually forms around the collective wisdom of credible expert evidence on issues of health and safety issues, tempered by what is politically possible.”

    So why do we not have the Death Penalty, (which I do not want or support), in the UK?
    The answer is this. The “Great and the Good” decide what is in our best interests. They decide, not us. They do what they think is right, despite popular opinion. It is not as transparent and democratic as you would seem to suggest.

    In the UK at the moment, the unelected (rightly) judiciary are making a fool of us with their interpretation on the Terrorist, sorry Human Rights Act and we can do nothing about it.

    This is what David is railing about – the example of drink driving legislation is just that, an example. It is not a particularly good example.

  26. Mahons

    Since I take the same perfectly reasonable position as the UK government, that’s swell. I raise a glass to harmonious debate.


    I actually think it is a good one.I am sick of being told what to eat/drink/smoke/live. I want to be left alone and I want the State out of my face.

  27. David – your position as to what standard to apply (the current level or the proposed one) is reasonable. Your claim that the proposal is draconian and tyranical is not, even after a few drinks.

  28. “This legislation will criminalise a whole new group of people.”

    Tough I’m with Attwood, when I go out whether its for an evening out or just out to visit I want to get home without being hit by a drunk driver or a speeding drunk driver. And I want to go to a restraunt or bar and not breathe in someone elses smoke, good on that one too. Sadly the proposals don’t go far enough, anyone even looking suspicious behind a wheel should be blood tested for drugs as well as alcohol. Anyone without a seat belt deserves their fine it should be higher.

    Well done Attwood and well done O’dowd on the schools issue. At last some real local politics.

  29. David – I haven’t read the full report, apparently there is a statistical basis indicating the reduction would save approx 168 lives in its first year (leaving aside non-fatal injuries). I don’t know if the methods used in that formulation would meet with the required scientific/expert methodology, and I’d defer to the experts on that one. Has some organization found those numbers to be inflated or in error?

    In any event, the present level seems to be based on a a 40 year old standard and I don’t think a review of a 40 year old standard is unduly intrusive of the government.

  30. Interesting fact. The AVERAGE BAC of a fatal drunk driver is…0.16mg/100mls. Double the current limit. Perhaps Mahons and Kateyo can share how introducing a lower limit affects this?

    The BMA. like NICE, seem unable to tell us how many prosecutions are escaped by those between 5.1mg and 7.9mg. I wonder why? 😉 I mean, it must be significant for Attwood to legislate, right?

    Some other major NI Nanny State innovations;

    1. Forcing cyclists to wear helmets.
    2. Banning actors from smoking on stage.
    3. Spending £127,00O on a campaign warning us against the menace of…salt.
    4. Seeking to increase the cost of alcohol for the little people.
    5. Contemplating a tax on chocolate.

    As Kateyo observes….real politics.

  31. David – the change in the law is not directed against the higher limit, since there is already a law in place for them. The change is directed to reduce fatalities caused within the proposed limit. Seems easy enough to understand.

  32. kateyo,

    Please advise on how I can legislate so I don’t have to be in the same restaurant or bar as you as your illiberal and Statist opinions offend me.

  33. Mahon. The facts prove that law is ineffective. So I repeat explain how introducing a lower limit will do anything to reduce the overwhelming number of fatalities caused at .16, twice the current limit. If you are claiming it will reduce numerous fatalities occuring between 0.79 and 0.51mg/100mls, then show me any empirical data to back this up. That seems easy enough to understand.

  34. David,

    Helmets for cyclists – Good idea!

    Banning actors from smoking on stage – Stupid!

    £127,000 on anti-salt campaign – Waste of money.

    Alcohol Tax – Divisive & stupid.

    Tax on chocolate – There is now-one more illiberal than a Liberal!

    They will never learn.

    I see that none of our Liberals have responded to my point about the Death Penalty.

  35. “Please advise on how I can legislate so I don’t have to be in the same restaurant or bar as you as your illiberal and Statist opinions offend me.”

    My advice to you is stay home, my opinions are in line with the law, no smoking in bars or restaurants, and no drink driving with a hopefully reduced limit…if not enjoy paying your fines points on your licence or time in the slammer…

  36. “The facts prove that law is ineffective.”

    But heres the thing DV no one voted for you on the other hand I gave a vote to Attwood and this makes me glad I did. There are far too many accidents on the roads here. The assembly appears to be working at last. O’Dowd this morning on Nolan had me practically cheering. AT last local politics for local peoople. Treat those who drink and drive harshly the more harshly the better.

  37. Kateyo

    The average BAC of a fatal drunk driver is twice that of the 0.8mg current limit. Now, please explain how reducing the limit deal with this reality? Oh yes, it doesn’t. Still, you deserve what you vote for. Enjoy.

  38. “Still, you deserve what you vote for. Enjoy.”

    I will. Such is the beauty of democracy. zero tolerance for drunks behind the wheel. A car with a drunk driver in it is a deadly weapon on our roads, when you go out have a nominated driver that stays of it or get a taxi.

  39. So you want tougher sentencing for drunk drivers and don’t want a law introduced that reduces alcohol intake. You would I’m sure support EU legislation that stops gay men giving blood here but not in line with Britain, yet you don’t support this EU legislation when Britain is different. You are at odds with yourself, firstly over whether or not you support EU legislation and secondly over drunk driving issue.

  40. The following countries have a legal standard of zero BAC!

    And it’s not just Muslim countries. I am surprised to see Russia on that list, and imagine that it’s not well enforced there.

    This is one of the areas where rights appear to conflict. But I want the benefit of every doubt on something like this to go to the innocent drivers who share the road.

    As noted, there are a large number of other countries with thresholds below 0.8 BAC.

    Czech Republic
    Romania (beyond 0.08% drivers will not only receive a fine and have their license suspended, the offense will also be added to their criminal records.)
    Saudi Arabia
    United Arab Emirates
    Canada – new drivers undergoing graduated licensing in some provinces

  41. I hope you are ready for the NI public tomorrow then DV..:) The gay men and blood donating was discussed widely on Nolan especially why the DUP were keeping things as they are while Britain is different. Here you are now saying that for drunk drivers EU legislation is best -you can’t shop about like that. Either you are Eurosceptic or not, for drunk drivers or not, or you are simply confused.

  42. Most of us would be concerned about government overreach.

    But this isn’t an example of that.

    Its good to have these discussions. An important issue( or two important issues ) . Cheers.

  43. The legislation proposed by Attwood is Euro legislation.
    The legislation I support is British legislation.
    All consistent.
    But now I need my beauty sleep…

  44. “The legislation proposed by Attwood is Euro legislation.”

    Do you support the DUP when they stay in line with EU legislation regarding donating of blood, or do you think they should stay with British legislation which allows this ?

    “The legislation I support is British legislation.”

    But you criticise the punishment meeted out to drunk drivers as too lenient in Britain .. so your support isn’t total support.

    “Are we saying that they do not care about road deaths resulting from drinking alcohol?”

    What we are saying is that devolution gives laws to suit the regions and this is why we have this, thats what local govt is all about.

    So what is your stance on EU legislation used by DUP as supporting their case to keep the law banning gay men giving blood? Are you for it or against it? Or do you support British law in this case?

    Perhaps when you wake up you will have sorted out your opinions? 🙂

  45. I can’t kill the guy for wanting to protect the blood supply.

    Just as with responsible drinking/driving legislation, it’s a matter of not taking foolish, intentional risks.

    Now there’s consistency for you.

  46. “I can’t kill the guy for wanting to protect the blood supply. ”

    Totally agree. EU legislation has a ban on gay men donating blood and the dup are in line with Europe but out of line with Britain. It would seem DV supports this. Attwood wants to keep alcohol limits in line with Europe and out of line with Britain and DV does not support this…

    Therefore his eurosceptic views aren’t very sceptic are they?

    To say punishment isn’t strong enough but lets have a more lax law on drink driving than Europe is also a bit at odds with its self…

    And there are going to be some very emotional ppl on that show tomorrow, possible that a family who has lost someone to a drunk driver will be on so DV is in for a hammering….

  47. David – The law is not ineffective, some people break it. The study indicates if put into effect that 168 lives would be saved in the first year. That seems pretty good to me.

  48. The study does not tell us how many deaths are caused directly because of people driving with 51mg-79mg/100ml. It hypothesises. Further, who funded the study? Shall I tell you?

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