Keep Death Off the Road.

Keep Death Off the Road. Although we have not yet succeeded in obeying the instruction of this famous road safety slogan, we have over the years taken significant steps in that direction. The number of deaths on the roads in the United Kingdom has come down. They have roughly halved each decade, from 5217 in 1990 to 1713 in 2013.

While this is a considerable achievement, not least when the number of vehicles on the roads has increased every year (apart from 1991) since the end of the Second World War, this reduction has come about as the result of a very wide range of initiatives: powerful and regular road safety education campaigns; better and safer roads; greatly improved car design; introduction of MOT testing; use of speed cameras and of breathalysers; the requirement to use seat belts; child seats and crash helmets on motorcycles; banning the use of mobile phones in cars; and the introduction of new road traffic offences in cases where people are killed or injured by drivers already breaking the law, for example, by driving dangerously or over the drink drive limit.

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Whilst all of these and other measures have contributed to bringing down the death and injury rates, they have to be maintained and enforced where appropriate to keep the rates at that level. Other steps have to be taken to achieve a greater reduction. One obvious group to target is those drivers who drive whilst having drunk too much or have taken drugs.

That is why, at the end of 2009, I was asked by the Labour Government in Westminster to conduct a Review of Drink and Drug Driving Law. The world of politics being what it is, by the time my report was submitted in May 2010 it was for the Coalition Government to publish it. Just over half of the 51 recommendations were concerned with drink driving and the rest with drug driving.

There was general acceptance by the Coalition of those relating to drug driving, and steps have now been taken across the UK, for example to create a new offence of driving with a specified drug in the blood above a prescribed legal limit; introduce drug testing kits in police stations; and generally speed up the procedures for dealing with those suspected of drug driving.

As for drink driving, while there has also been progress across the UK in implementing recommendations relating to the procedures for dealing with drink drive offending, the Coalition Government rapidly rejected the major recommendation that the drink drive level should be reduced from 80 milligrams of alcohol to 50 milligrams in 100 millilitres of blood, which in terms of a breathalyser reading means a reduction from 35 to 22 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath.

This decision was taken despite overwhelming support in the evidence given to the review for such a reduction, or even greater reduction, and that such a change would save even more lives each year. Although there were varied estimates of the number of lives likely to be saved, a midpoint figure was that, in the UK, about 100 lives a year would be saved, avoiding approximately five per cent of all road deaths. Failure to change would mean that we, along with Malta, would be the only countries in Europe to have such a high drink drive level.

However, for Scottish road users, all was not lost because, under the Scotland Act 2012, power to set the drink drive level in Scotland was devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Consultation on a proposed reduction to the levels recommended by the Review was set in hand, revealing three-to-one support for a reduction. The Scottish Parliament has decided to implement a move to a new limit of 50 milligrams. This means that, as of today, Scottish roads should be that much safer, given this important further step to reduce deaths and injuries on Scottish roads ?? a great example to the rest of the UK.