Page last updated at 11:38 GMT, Monday, 14 July 2008 12:38 UK

No alcohol for young drivers call

Sir Liam Donaldson explains his recommendation

The legal blood alcohol limit should be cut to zero for drivers aged 17 to 20, England's chief medical officer says.

Sir Liam Donaldson said in his annual report that although there was a risk the move would be unpopular among young people, it would improve road safety.

Drink-drive laws are under review in the UK with data showing 14 youngsters die each week in car accidents.

His report also highlights a range of teenage health issues as well as surgery safety and high cancer rates.

Young people have enough difficulty when they first start driving learning the skills on the road, they don't need the complication of drink as well
Professor Sir Liam Donaldson
Chief Medical Officer for England

The legal limit in the UK is 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, which is much higher than many other European countries.

Alcohol bans for young drivers are also in place across the continent, while states in Australia and the US have similar rules.

Sir Liam said such a move here would not require a major increase in policing and would represent a "sensible public health measure".

There were over 1,000 drink-drive accidents involving teenagers last year, while transport accidents are a leading cause of death for that age group.

Research shows that alcohol use increases the risk of a crash for young drives 2.5 times more than it does for older drives.

Sir Liam told the BBC: "Young people have enough difficulty when they first start driving learning the skills on the road, they don't need the complication of drink as well."

There have been several calls in recent years to tighten up the UK's drink driving laws led by the road safety charity Brake and British Medical Association.

A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: "Drink-driving ruins lives and we take it extremely seriously.

"We know more can be done and are currently considering a range of options."

But Lib Dem transport spokesman Norman Baker said: "Young drivers could face legal problems because they have had a couple of drinks the night before or used alcohol in cooking. The answer is a lower limit for all drivers."


Sir Liam's report also dealt with wider teenage health issues.

He called for a national summit to address high levels of risky behaviour in what he called the big six - smoking, alcohol and drugs, accidents and violence, diet, physical activity and sexual health.

He said: "Habits adopted in the teenage years can form behaviour for a life time."

It comes as the Department of Health in England launched an internet-training programme for doctors and nurses to help them treat teenagers more effectively.

Have a close friend you can talk to
Eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day
Do not smoke
Eat lots of bread, rice and pasta
Stay in control of your drinking
Wait to have sex and when you do take precautions
Eat fish once a week
Exercise regularly
Do not do drugs
Tell someone if you being bullied or abused

And Sir Liam's report called for more research into why the UK has some of the highest rates of oesophageal cancer in Europe. The disease kills 6,000 people a year - double the European average.

He pointed out that the rate was rising and experts were struggling to understand the causes for this trend.

And his report also said more attention should be paid to surgical errors.

Sir Liam admitted the UK has some of the safest practices, but added there were still nearly 130,000 errors last year.

It comes after he spoke on Sunday about another theme in his report - hospital infections.

He said a vaccine for MRSA and Clostridium difficile could be just 10 years away.

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