Ahead of the 40th anniversary of breathalyser testing on Tuesday (October 9), the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents said it was now time to step up the campaign against drink driving to stop any more needless deaths.
Thousands of deaths and serious injuries have been avoided in Britain since October 9, 1967, when the current drink-drive limit (80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood) became a legal requirement and roadside testing was introduced. At the time, it was said that drinking before driving led to about 13,000 fatal and serious casualties each year. By 1987, the figure for people killed or seriously injured in accidents involving illegal alcohol levels had dropped to 6,800 and by last year it had fallen to 2,500.
Despite this tremendous success, there is still a need for a cut in the drink-drive limit because the consistent fall in drink-drive fatalities ceased at the end of the 1990s.
Last year, of the 3,172 people killed on Britain's roads, 540 died in accidents involving illegal alcohol levels. In 1999, the figure was 460.
Kevin Clinton, RoSPA Head of Road Safety, said: ” RoSPA had been calling for drink-drive legislation during the 1960s because of growing evidence that alcohol played a part in many road accidents. At the time, more than 7,000 people were dying on Britain's roads annually and it was hoped the new law would save hundreds of lives each year.
“In fact, according to one report from the time, it was hoped the drink-drive hazard would be 'effectively nullified' . Sadly, this hasn't happened, and the menace of alcohol is still causing misery.
“It is now time for renewed action. RoSPA is calling for the drink-drive limit to be reduced to 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood – a move which would save around 65 lives and 230 serious injuries on Britain' s roads each year. Between 50mg and 80mg, you are two to two-and-a-half times more likely to be involved in an accident and six times more likely to be in a fatal crash than with no alcohol in your system.”
RoSPA believes that lowering the legal limit would pave the way for a new education campaign to raise awareness of the seriousness of drink driving. The Society will be participating in a Government consultation on drink-drive laws later this year.
* In the 10 months before October 1967, 28 per cent of drivers and riders killed had blood-alcohol levels of more than 80mg per 100ml. In the following 12 months, the percentage fell to 15 per cent. But in 2006, it was 20 per cent.