The SNP: drunk at the wheel

Rob Lyons

Topics Politics

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Scotland’s legal limit for alcohol when driving has been reduced. The major complaint has been that this will cause confusion near the border with England, where the limit has not been changed. But the real problem is the reduced limit itself and how it is another example of the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) drive to regulate everyday life.

The old drink-drive limit, which still applies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, is 80mg per 100ml of blood. In Scotland, the limit is now 50mg per 100ml. This has generally been described as being equivalent to a single alcoholic drink, though, in truth, how much effect an amount of alcohol will have on a particular person varies considerably. The aim is really to deter drivers from drinking at all. Michael Matheson, the Scottish justice secretary, said: ‘Today we are sending a clear message to drivers who continue to ignore the warnings that there is never an excuse to drink and drive.’

It is true that alcohol does affect your ability to drive. But driving is also extraordinarily safe. According to a UK government factsheet, there are two fatalities for every billion kilometres driven each year. According to the North Review, published in 2010, a fatal accident is six times more likely when the driver has a blood alcohol level between the old limit (80mg) and the new limit (50mg). So the increase in the relative risk of driving after a couple of drinks is significant, but the absolute risk is still tiny.

The consequences of being caught, though, can be severe. Having a single drink when driving home is, judging by the stats, still a safe thing to do, yet the minimum penalty is a 12-month ban from driving, which could have an enormous impact on someone’s livelihood and freedom of movement. Enforcing such bans in rural areas means it can be difficult to go to the pub and have a drink at all – legally, at least. Of course, getting behind the wheel while properly drunk is a stupid and anti-social thing to do. But there are no shades of grey in the current law – you’ll be banned even if you had good reason to believe you were okay to drive.

It’s no accident that Scotland has made this move before the rest of the UK. While endless interference in our lives is a hallmark of modern politics, the SNP has legislated with gusto around such matters. On issues like drink-driving, there is little balancing of the penalty with the risks incurred. The heavy hand of the law is to be applied, no matter what the circumstances. The lack of critical comment about this trend is deafening.

Rob Lyons is a columnist for spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @robspiked

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Topics Politics


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