The UK’s leading motoring lawyer has criticised today’s 50th anniversary of the first Christmas drink-drive adverts as a “missed opportunity” for changing the law – and also warning of the perils of getting behind the wheel under the influence of drugs.
Photo courtesy of BBC, Drink Drive public information film, 1964.
Nick Freeman, the lawyer known as “Mr Loophole” after securing acquittals for a range of celebrity clients ranging from David Beckham to Jeremy Clarkson, said:
“While screening adverts has played a role in changing people’s behaviour, it is only the screening of motorists for a far lower drink-drive limit – wedded to the introduction of random breath tests – that will ultimately make our roads safer
“Overnight, this would have a massive impact on the ever-present problem of people drinking and thinking they are fit to drive when they aren’t.
“Our drink-drive limit is far too lenient – 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. No other country in the world has a higher limit.
“This level has remained the same since the day drink-driving became a crime and, despite compelling evidence of the benefits from reducing it, it has remained the same throughout the lifespan of these adverts.
“We live in a changing world yet this is a law that regrettably has failed to keep pace with scientific and medical research as well as the wishes of the public.
“At its current high level, the chances of you having an accident increase four-fold – this is clearly unacceptable”.
“In the face of this mounting pressure, few laws as important as this one have remained unchanged for so long with the result that lives have been lost unnecessarily – an avoidable trend that will again continue this Christmas despite the screening of the latest advert.
“Today’s anniversary presented a timely opportunity for triggering debate on the far-reaching benefits of introducing a lower drink-drive limit, introducing random breathalyser tests – but the Government has failed to grasp it.
“The limit needs to be brought in line with most of Europe which has a current limit of 50 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, though countries such as Greece (10 milligrams) and Sweden, Poland and Norway (20 milligrams) go much further.
“We have a Government that masquerades as one committed to road safety, even though our current drink-driving laws allow for the highest level of alcohol in Europe.
Mr Freeman said of equal concern, as a country where there are more people unfit to drive through drugs than drink, was the fact the UK lagged behind other countries with an approach to this problem that he described as ‘Third World’.
He added: “These adverts have also failed to tackle a more recent and growing menace to road safety – the dangers of drug-driving – and it’s disappointing yet again that this year’s advert makes no reference to the impact drug-driving has.
“During my career, I have defended thousands of motorists charged with driving with excess alcohol. I can rarely remember defending motorists facing similar charges for drug-driving – it can be no more than a handful.
“We know from research, such as the British Crime Survey, that the prevalence of drug-taking is on the increase but this does not seem to be matched by the gaping hole between drink-related prosecutions and those relating to drugs.
Mr Freeman also warned that the current limit presented a dangerous anomaly that some motorists who are deemed unfit to drive could still be under the legal limit.
“This is a crazy situation,” he added, “There are many cases every day when a driver has drunk a glass of wine and got behind the wheel, unfit to drive.
“We live in an age of robotical policing and quite simply there are insufficient numbers of officers policing our roads. Moreover their powers should be extended to conduct random breath tests in order to detect drink or drugs.
There are powers to stop motorists at random and but none to breathalyse or drug-test at random. This is another glaring anomaly that common sense demands needs to be changed before more lives are unfortunately lost.”