Second Reading

Part of Road Traffic Act 1988 (Alcohol Limits) (Amendment) Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 11:28 am on 29th January 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 11:28 am, 29th January 2016

My Lords, I congratulate and thank my noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe for bringing forward the Bill. He has been a marvellous campaigner on this subject for a long time. It is a shame that the Government have not taken action, especially given what my noble friend said about their knowledge of the extra risks of people driving with a BAC between 50 and 80 milligrams.

We increasingly stand alone internationally by retaining the 80 milligram rather than adopting the 50 milligram figure. It is now just Northern Ireland, England, Wales and Malta in Europe that stick at 80 milligrams. In fact, four EU countries have a limit of zero. Indeed, proud Welsh girl that I am, I have to take my hat off to the Scots, who have done the deed—and the sky did not fall in. In fact, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said, there has been a 12% drop in offences, while eight in 10 Scots believe that drinking any alcohol before driving is unacceptable.

This is always a difficult subject for me to discuss, as, a day short of my 10th birthday, I lost my mother because of a drunk driver. Who knows, she might have been saved and lived had she been wearing a seat belt. In those days, of course, they were not even fitted, much less compulsory. However, as a result of endless campaigning, and finally an Act of Parliament—in both of which my noble friend Lord Robertson of Port Ellen played a key role—the law was changed with regard to seat belts. Now, we would not think of driving without wearing one. That is what I want to see happening with regard to drinking and driving—I want it to be unthinkable. A step towards that is to reduce the limit because we know that that will reduce the number of accidents. I think we have done with campaigning—just as we did in relation to seat belts before we brought in the relevant law. It is time to make the change.

I pay tribute to those who have campaigned on this issue, not just my noble friend but organisations such as the Campaign Against Drinking and Driving—CADD—set up to help the families of those bereaved through drink-driving, the Livia Trust and others who campaign for safety on the roads. We owe it to them, to those who have lost loved ones, but also to those who have been injured through someone driving after drinking, such as the Paralympian, Simon Richardson, to make this change.

For myself, I could, being a moderate person, live with this measure being introduced gradually, perhaps initially for drivers under the age of 21—as we know, they are overrepresented among the fatalities—or, perhaps drivers in their first two years after passing their test, or while holding a provisional licence; but start we must. Fifteen per cent of deaths in accidents involve at least one driver over the limit. Those are tragic but avoidable figures. In 2013 there were 250 deaths and 8,000 injuries, 1,000 of which are very serious, due to somebody driving after drinking. Would we accept so many deaths due to any other cause and do nothing about it?

Clearly, as has been said, lowering the limit is not all that is needed. We also need enforcement and publicity for real change to be made. However, a reduction to 50 milligrams would make a difference. As my noble friend said, that reduction is supported by more than three-quarters of the population. We know that at 80 milligrams, drivers are six times as likely to die in an accident as those who have not drunk at all. This is partly because, even if they do not cause the incident, they are less likely to be able to avoid a dangerous incident after they have been drinking. We are well aware that there is a direct relationship between the amount that is drunk and the ability to function behind the wheel. Even between 20 and 50 milligrams, drivers increase their chance of an accident threefold. Up to 80 milligrams, the risk increases sixfold, and up to 100 milligrams, they are 11 times as likely to have an accident. Therefore, reducing the legal limit would lower the number of accidents and improve road safety for all of us.

We, of course, are not the first to call for this, nor are we the only people who support this change. My noble friend Lord Brooke reminded us of the North report of 2010, which estimated that a reduction to 50 milligrams would save 100 lives a year. That is two a week. Those are real lives: they matter. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said that of the people who died, only one was between the 50 and 80 milligrams level.