Page last updated at 13:09 GMT, Thursday, 3 December 2009

Drink-drive limit to be examined by legal expert

A man being breathalysed
The legal drink-drive limit is being examined for a possible change

The government has asked a legal expert to examine the case for lowering the legal alcohol limit for drivers and tightening the laws on drug-driving.

Sir Peter North will give a report of his independent research to Transport Secretary Lord Adonis before April.

The current limit is 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood but there has been support for a lowering of the limit to 50 milligrams.

The government is launching a £1.2m Christmas anti-drink-drive campaign.

'Public concern'

Lord Adonis said: "Road safety has improved significantly in recent years - 1,000 fewer people now die on the roads in a year than in the mid-1990s - and Britain now has one of the safest road systems in the world.

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs still leads to a large number of deaths and serious injuries
Sir Peter North

"But we need to cut further the number of tragedies on our roads. Drink-driving killed 430 people last year, and research suggests drug-driving is a key concern for the public."

Lord Adonis also said that there "may be a case for further strengthening the law".

Sir Peter said: "Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs still leads to a large number of deaths and serious injuries. The challenge is to see whether changes in the law and its processes can reduce casualties.

"The legal and practical issues are not easy to resolve, but I intend to consult widely on these matters."

Oxford University academic Sir Peter has previously advised the government on road-traffic laws and legislation on marches and parades in Northern Ireland.

'Complex issues'

Drink- and drug-driving was one of the top three issues of concern in a survey of 15,000 AA members last month.

Two out of every three of those asked said they supported a lowering of the drink-drive limit.

The motoring organisation's president, Edmund King, said: "We welcome the fact that the government will seek a fresh look at the legal complexities surrounding drink- and drug-driving.

"We will be happy to feed in our views to Sir Peter and we are pleased that these complex issues will be addressed."

The RAC also backed the announcement.

Spokesman John Franklin said: "Drug-driving has been a growing problem in recent years and clarifying the punishment for this offence should help lower the number of road accidents and deaths involving them.

"Similarly, lowering the drink-drive limit to 50 milligrams should help further reduce the number of deaths on our roads."

'Despicable crime'

Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said the Conservatives had "yet to be convinced of the case for an across-the-board reduction in the drink-driving limit".

She added: "We would certainly strongly oppose any moves which would see the penalties for drink-driving reduced or a move away from the mandatory ban."

Road safety charity Brake welcomed the study but said it would mean a delay in publishing the government's new road safety strategy until next summer.

"Drink- and drug-driving is the most despicable crime and anyone who thinks that its general social unacceptability has eradicated the problem needs to think again," said Brake's chief executive, Mary Williams.

"It is disappointing that the strategy is being delayed, however. With the level of carnage on our roads, such a delay is unacceptable."

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