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Cutting drink-drive limit could save lives, NICE study finds

Newspage: keys and drinkCutting the drink-drive limit for motorists in England and Wales by almost half could prevent around 3,000 road injuries and 145 deaths in the first year alone, a study by NICE has found.

Currently, the legal alcohol blood concentration limit for drivers is 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. But reducing the limit to 50mg/100ml, in line with most countries in Europe, will result in major improvements to road safety.

When a limit of 50mg/100ml limit was introduced in fifteen countries in Europe, it collectively led to 11.5 per cent fewer alcohol-related driving deaths among 18-25 year olds - the age group most at risk of being involved in accidents.

Over 400 people were killed in drink-driving accidents, accounting for 17 per cent of all road fatalities, according to UK figures from 2008.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has already called for a reduction in the drink drive limit because there is clear evidence that a drivers' reaction times and motoring skills deteriorate after even a small amount of alcohol - and gets worse with increased alcohol consumption, and that the risk of being involved in a collision rises significantly once the blood alcohol level rises above 50mg/100ml.

The Royal College of Physicans and the Alcohol Health Alliance UK have also voiced concern that the blood alcohol limit should be reduced to 50mgl, arguing that the limit has been accepted by all EU countries with the exception of the UK and Ireland, and Ireland is currently in the process of reducing the level to 50mg/100ml.

The findings of this latest study, carried out by NICE on behalf of the Department for Transport, will be considered as part of the Department's review of drink and drug driving law led by Sir Peter North.

For the study, NICE conducted a review of the best available international evidence from the USA, Australia and several European countries, and looked at drink-driving patterns and the associated risk of being injured or killed in a road traffic accident.

Modelling methods developed by researchers at the University of Sheffield were used to estimate the potential impact of lowering the drink-drive limit in England and Wales.

“Overall, the international evidence indicates that lowering the BAC limit from 80mg to 50mg could reduce the number of alcohol-related deaths and injuries in the UK,” said Professor Mike Kelly, Director of Public Health at NICE.

“Not only could it have a positive impact on those who regularly drink well above the current limit before driving, but it also has the potential to make everyone think twice about having a drink before they decide to drive somewhere.”

However, for this measure to effectively change people's attitudes to drink-driving and improve road safety in the long term, it must be supported by ongoing publicity, as well as visible and rapid enforcement. According to the evidence, current efforts do not appear to be a strong enough deterrent as many drivers do not believe that they will ever be caught or sanctioned, warned Professor Kelly.

“We therefore hope that our findings will provide the government with an important basis for informing its policy considerations on changing the current drink-driving legislation,” he added.

16 June 2010

This page was last updated: 16 June 2010

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Accessibility | Cymraeg | Freedom of information | Vision Impaired | Contact Us | Glossary | Data protection | Copyright | Disclaimer | Terms and conditions

Copyright 2014 National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. All rights reserved.