The introduction of a lower drink drive limit has not had the devastating impact on the financial viability of pubs the industry has claimed, according to a new study.

The research, carried out at the University of Stirling, contradicts previous warnings that the stricter law effects on pubs, restaurants and nightclubs has been devastating.

Five years ago, in December 2014, Scotland reduced the permitted blood alcohol concentration at which someone could still legally drive from 80 milligrams per decilitre to 50 milligrams.

It means a half pint or a small glass of wine can be enough to put some people over the limit. While Scotland it made Scotland's limit the lowest in the UK, many European countries had lower limits still.

Prior to the change there were warnings that many 'on-trade' licensed premises would close, and the Scottish Licensed Trade Association has since claimed businesses have lost up to 10 per cent of their takings, costing Scottish pubs millions of pounds a year.

But in the first study of its kind, experts at the University of Stirling interviewed owners and managers of on-trade premises – such as pubs, restaurants and nightclubs – to understand how the legislation had affected their businesses.

The team found that while proprietors said the ban had led to fewer people drinking after work and more leaving premises earlier on weekdays, most reported no long-term financial impact on their business.

Some had made adaptations in anticipation of the law change, including building in other sources of revenue, by improving the range of food on offer and expanding provision of non-alcohol and low alcohol drinks.

Business owners and managers interviewed felt that these changes were key to minimising economic impact.

Dr Niamh Fitzgerald, an Associate Professor in the Institute of Social Marketing at Stirling, led the study. She said there had been considerable vocal opposition to the legislation from those who feared the commericla impact. "We observed instances of this in the run up to – and in the months following – the change of Scotland’s drink-drive laws," she said. “This study found that businesses in the study had adapted to the change and reported little long-term economic impact."

She said the study could influence debates in other countries still considering lower drink-drive limits, where similar controversies are prominent.

"The findings are of international relevance as lower drink-drive limits are being considered in other countries, with debates including discussions around the impact on business," she said.

The study involved interviews with 16 owners and managers of on-trade premises in Scotland in 2018, focusing on the impact on profits, changes in customer drinking behaviour, changes in the way customers travel and adaptations they had made to their businesses.

Most participants were supportive of the change, and the majority said their had been no effect on their profit or that it had been short term before returning to normal.

Rural pubs in the study were more likely to report a negative economic impact, while urban food-led establishments were less likely to do so – as customers continued to eat out, switching alcohol for soft drinks.

The general perception was that people had stopped drinking altogether if tehy were driving - rather than cutting down - following the official message that the "best advice is none"

The 'after work drinker', the 'next morning' drinker and the 'lunchtime' drinker were seen as having been most affected by the change.

Many businesses made changes to adapt to the new law. One participant said: “We’re quite happy to change to whatever means we have to do. If the drink-driving limit has gone down then we need to offer different things to attract folk in. Generally, some of the older style pubs don’t really cater for that and just don’t want to know that. So, they might have lost out a bit.”

Dr Fitzgerald said: “We found a broad acceptance of the change. The findings of our study ought to provide policymakers with some reassurance that the on-trade alcohol retail sector may be able to successfully adapt business practices and products offered in the context of a reduced drink-drive limit.”

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said the study countered 'alarmist' predictions from the industry.

She said: "This report demonstrates that alarmist predictions that lowering the drink-driving limit would be disastrous for the pub trade were unfounded. Reducing the drink drive limit was the right thing to do and it is encouraging to see support for the lower limit and that more people appear to be choosing not to drink if they are driving.”

However the industry has criticised the scope of the new study. Paul Waterson, of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association said it was 'preposterous'.

"We carry out two anonymous surveys a year and regularly get 600 premises replying. I think any fair minded person would agree that speaking to just 16 businesses is not very representative," he said. "To suggest this has not had a massive effect on pubs and bars throughout the country is nonsense."