Page last updated at 18:12 GMT, Thursday, 18 December 2008

MSPs back drink-driving reduction

Kenny MacAskill said the current drink driving limit was "unfit for purpose"

The Scottish Parliament has voted in favour of cutting the drink-driving limit to the equivalent of one glass of beer or wine.

The move came after doctors urged Scotland's political parties to support reducing the limit from 80mg to 50mg per 100ml of blood.

The plan was backed during a debate at Holyrood - although the issue is reserved to Westminster.

Labour and the Tories abstained in the vote, saying it was a UK-wide matter.

The British Medical Association Scotland has backed the Scottish Government's bid, saying the move could prevent as many as 65 deaths on the UK's roads every year.

During the debate, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill told MSPs the current drink-drive limit, which has been in place for 40 years, was "outdated and unfit for purpose".

Any change to the alcohol limit would have to be agreed at Westminster as the issue is reserved.

Every death represents a family tragedy and every serious injury can be devastating for the person involved and their relatives
Dr Sally Winning
BMA Scotland

Mr MacAskill said he had written to the Department of Transport earlier this year, setting out the Scottish Government's support for a reduction in the drink-driving limit, as well as random breath testing.

He said: "A lower limit will reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries and that is why we are pursuing this matter."

But the "safest option" for drivers was not to drink and drive at all, he added.

Labour's Richard Baker said the drink-drive limit is reserved to Westminster and, while he thought it would be better to lower the limit, it was "sensible" to have consistency across the UK on the issue.

He said: "I would hope on this most important of issues we could get beyond stoking up constitutional debate and ministers here looking to set themselves in opposition to their Westminster counterparts.

"Surely it is more important to seek a consensus."

Silhouette of a police officer conducting a breath test
Drinking alcohol reduces the reaction times of drivers

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Ross Finnie said his party backed reducing the drink-driving limit from the current 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood to 50mg

He also argued there was plenty of evidence to support a cut in the drink-driving limit.

He said: "I am puzzled as to why the UK Government seems to believe there has been no studies carried out, no evidence produced on this matter, over the last 10 years.

"Indeed one could almost suggest they are wilfully ignoring all of the evidence that has been produced over the last 10 years."

Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Bill Aitken said fewer people were getting behind the wheel after drinking.

But he argued the problem of drivers taking to the roads under the influence of drugs was increasing.

High risk

BMA Scotland said the risk of a driver being involved in a collision rises significantly once their blood alcohol level rises above 50mg per 100ml.

Dr Sally Winning, a member of the BMA's Scottish Council, said: "Doctors see and treat the tragic consequences of avoidable road accidents caused by drink driving and therefore believe that there is really no excuse for keeping the level at 80mg.

"Almost every European country has a 50mg or lower limit and the UK needs to follow this lead.

"Every death represents a family tragedy and every serious injury can be devastating for the person involved and their relatives."

Doctors in Scotland would also like to see the police allowed to carry out roadside random breath tests.

At present, only drivers suspected of being over the limit can be tested by police.

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