Guest PostWith the Christmas period quickly approaching, police forces all over the country step up their efforts to fight drink driving over concerns that too much enjoyment of the festive period (and all it brings) will inevitably lead to a rise in the crime. They’re not wrong to be concerned either – according to the Department for Transport, while deaths caused by drink driving have had a trend of steady decline in the last thirty years, last year’s statistics showed a rise of almost 30%.
It comes as no surprise, then, that there have been consistent calls this past year for tougher laws and regulations against a variety of driving offences – whether it’s drug/drink driving, or just using a mobile phone. There are plans to introduce stricter ‘drug driving’ laws next year (with harsher sentencing), Scotland plans to cut their limit by almost 50% and a victim’s sister has handed a petition to Downing Street calling for an immediate ban for those arrested on suspicion of drink driving.
A Steady Drop and a Sudden Rise: What’s Behind the Increase?
The RAC’s David Bizley has called these rises, which were announced earlier this year, a ‘call for concern’, and he’d be right to do so – while figures have shown a general decline since records began in 1979 (from 1,640 a year down to just 230 in 2011), last year’s figures showed a one of the first rise in almost a decade.
The reasons behind the rise are unclear, and it’s still lower than the figures from 2009 (as well as all years previously), but the suggestion seems to be that limits need changing and more effective enforcement of existing law is needed – both too high a limit and ineffective policing could be behind the cause.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa) has therefore called for a drop in the drink drive limit (recommendations have suggested lowering to 50mg per 100ml of blood) and for the government to re-evaluate their anti-drink driving campaigns, as well as to invest in tighter policing.
The Line between Lower Limits & Stricter Bans
A terrible case was brought to our attention once again recently as the sister of a student, who was killed by a drunk driver in 2010, submitted her 13,000-signature petition calling for a drastic change in law. As it stands, by default, those arrested and awaiting trial for a drink-related driving offence are still able to drive – a ban is to be handed down by a sentencing judge in the event a guilty plea is entered or guilty verdict is reached.
Of course, there are always going to be exception circumstances (like repeat offenders, High Risk Offenders, incredibly serious incidents etc.) and in these instances judges do have the power to ban anyone on bail. The Ministry of Justice have argued that, as a result, the powers already exist for judges to ban drivers in these most serious of cases.
A much lower drink driving limit could help to curb deaths, as well as result in harsher sentencing for what seems like a serious case but is not considered as such by law. As it stands, the UK’s alcohol limit is 80mg per 100ml of blood – while there are no plans for changes across the board, Scotland is going through legislative changes cut this by almost 40% to 50mg.
Automatic Bans – Not Considering ‘Special Reasons’?
However, a blanket ban could have adverse effects on either those who might later be found innocent, or those who are successfully able to argue exceptional hardship to appeal a ban. There are also special reasons to consider including drinks spiked/laced, or driving in an emergency (eg. if you’re fleeing from very real threats to your life).
Of course, incidents like the one above are absolutely awful, and shouldn’t ever happen – the man found guilty of causing the teenager’s death was, quite rightly, sentenced to four years in jail for death by careless driving. He was also almost twice the legal alcohol limit, so it’s perfectly understandable why the victim’s family felt the defendant’s ability to continue to drive while awaiting trial was ‘totally disrespectful’.
Nonetheless, the law has a duty to be fair and judges need the power to be able to make their own judgements (which is why the MoJ argue the powers already exist) – the appropriate line is a difficult one to find, especially with cases such as this and figures revealing a rise in deaths.
This guest post was written by Tom McShane – blogger and writer for drink driving specialists McMillans Drink Driving Solicitors. While all drink driving offences should be taken seriously, Tom hopes new legislation changes won’t fall down hard on innocent drivers or defendable cases.