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Lowering the drink driving limit does not equal fewer accidents, new UEA study finds

PUBLISHED: 23:30 12 December 2018 | UPDATED: 10:28 13 December 2018

Reducing the drink driving limit does not necessarily reduce the number of road traffic accidents, a new study involving the University of East Anglia has found. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

Reducing the drink driving limit does not necessarily reduce the number of road traffic accidents, a new study involving the University of East Anglia has found. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

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A reduction of the drink drive limit, as carried out in Scotland, does not necessarily reduce the number of road traffic accidents, a new study by Norwich scientists has found.

The new research goes against previous evidence which showed reducing the legal blood alcohol limit also saw a reduction in the number of accidents on the road.

Led by Glasgow University and carried out by researchers from the University of East Anglia, the study looked at whether lowering the drink driving limit from 80mg/dl to 50mg/dl -as was done in Scotland in 2014- also saw a drop in the number of car crashes.

Using data from Scotland, England and Wales, including numbers of road accidents from police records combined with alcohol consumption rates from market research, the study found that lowering the legal blood alcohol concentration limit on its own does not improve accident outcomes.

Prof Jim Lewsey, from the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing, said he was surprised by the results, especially given previous international evidence: “The results of our study are unequivocal – they indicate that the reduction in Scotland’s drink-drive limit in December 2014 simply did not have the intended effect of reducing RTAs.

“In our view, the most plausible explanation for our findings is that the change in legislation was not backed up with additional police enforcement, nor sustained media campaigning.

“It is also perhaps an indication of the safety of Scotland’s roads more generally, following continual improvements in recent years, and the fact that drink-driving is increasingly socially unacceptable.

“Drink-driving remains highly dangerous and against the law. It is important to stress that these findings should not be interpreted to imply that any level of drink-driving is safe.”

Prof Andy Jones, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said that if any reduction where to be introduced in England, law enforcement would be key to achieving the desired results: “Our failure to find any impact of a reduction in the Scottish legal blood-alcohol limit for driving highlights the importance of enforcement in bringing about change in driver behaviour in England too.

“Evidence suggests that motorists won’t drink less if they feel that they are unlikely to get caught.”

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