Navigation

Cutting drink-drive limit 'could save 168 lives in the first year'

Around 16,000 road-traffic injuries and 170 deaths could be prevented in the first year if the government lowers the blood alcohol limit for drivers, says a new study of the drink-drive laws. The current legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for drivers in the UK is 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. However several countries around the world have cut this threshold to 50mg/100ml with clear improvements to road safety.

For example, in fifteen countries in Europe, the introduction of a 50mg/100ml limit collectively led to 11.5% fewer alcohol-related driving deaths among 18 to 25 year olds - the age group most at risk of being involved in an accident. In Australia's Queensland the measure led to 18% fewer deaths on the roads.

The study has been carried out by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), on behalf of the Department for Transport. The report does not represent NICE guidance.

Professor Mike Kelly, Director of Public Health Excellence at NICE said:

"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. 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."

"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."

Ends

Notes to Editors

For further information about the “Review of effectiveness of laws limiting blood alcohol concentration levels to reduce alcohol-related road injuries and deaths” visit: www.nice.org.uk/additionalpublications.jsp

Key statistics about drink-driving (taken from the NICE report)

In 2008, an estimated:

  • 6% (13,020) of all road traffic accidents occurred when someone was driving while over the limit.
  • 430 people were killed in drink-driving accidents - 17% of all road fatalities that year.
  • 2,060 people were killed or seriously injured in drink drive accidents -5% fewer than in 2007.

Blood alcohol concentration measures the amount of alcohol in a certain amount of blood. In the UK, the current legal BAC limit is 80mg/100ml. BAC levels vary from person to person due to factors such as gender, weight, metabolism, medication, how quickly a person drinks and the time elapsed since they last had alcohol. This means that it is impossible to equate the BAC level to a specific amount or type of alcoholic drink for the whole population.

About the NICE evidence review

Based on a comprehensive literature review, NICE has made the following conclusions:

1. Any amount of alcohol will affect a person's ability to drive; the risk of having an accident increases with consumption. Young drivers are particularly at risk of crashing, regardless of their BAC level.

2. Lowering the legal BAC limit for drivers will help reduce road traffic injuries and deaths in certain contexts; countries that have lowered the BAC limit from 80mg to 50mg per 100ml of blood have seen fewer alcohol-related deaths and injuries.

3. Publicity and visible, rapid enforcement, is needed if BAC laws are to be effective; drivers must be aware of and understand the law and must believe that they will be caught and punished if they do not adhere to it.

4. Lowering the BAC limit changes the drink-driving behaviour of all drivers - i.e. the BAC law acts as a general deterrent for all drivers.

5. Administrative licence suspension can help reduce road traffic injuries and deaths (assuming that a BAC limit is in place).

6. Zero tolerance laws and graduated licensing can help reduce alcohol-related injuries and deaths.

7. Among the findings, NICE estimates that the proposed change to the BAC legislation could save 144 deaths and 2,929 injuries in England and Wales in the first year, if the effects are similar to those observed in Australia. However if the effects are more common to those that occurred in Europe, then the BAC law changes could prevent 77-168 deaths and 3,611-15,832 injuries in England and Wales in the first year.

The review is based on a rigorous review of the best available international evidence. As much of this evidence is from the USA, Australia and several European countries, the precise impact of these measures in the UK is uncertain, given the differences in context; nevertheless, they provide an important basis for informing the government's policy considerations on changing the drink driving legislation.

The review uses modelling methods developed by the School of Health and Related Research at the University of Sheffield. It has been conducted in accordance with the methods outlined in NICE's “Methods for development of NICE public health guidance (second edition) 2009”, available at www.nice.org.uk/phmethods. The report does not represent NICE guidance.

About NICE

1. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is the independent organisation responsible for providing national guidance on the promotion of good health and the prevention and treatment of ill health.

2. NICE produces guidance in three areas of health:

  • public health - guidance on the promotion of good health and the prevention of ill health for those working in the NHS, local authorities and the wider public and voluntary sector
  • health technologies - guidance on the use of new and existing medicines, treatments and procedures within the NHS
  • clinical practice - guidance on the appropriate treatment and care of people with specific diseases and conditions within the NHS

Download PDF version

This page was last updated: 16 June 2010

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.

Selected, reliable information for health and social care in one place

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.