According to reports, the Government is now considering bringing the blood-alcohol limit for drivers down from 80mg to 50mg per 100ml of blood.
Well, if it saves just one life ...
It's utterly pointless. And it will bring the current law (which, incidentally, I approve of wholeheartedly) into disrepute. Tim Worstall takes it apart quite effectively here. I won't repeat what he says, except to reiterate that Britain has the highest blood-alcohol limit in Europe, and the lowest number of accidents per mile travelled, so we must be doing something right.
But the proposal gains a gold star for Completely Missing The Point.
There was a case recently (sorry, lost the link) where a fatal accident occurred on a road with a 60mph limit, where the car involved was said to be travelling at about 80mph. There was the predictable outcry and the call for "something to be done", and one of the recommendations was to reduce the speed limit of the road from 60mph to 30mph.
Does anyone seriously think that the driver would obey a lower limit if he was clearly willing to ignore a higher one? Did he say to himself, "I think I will keep to about 20 mph over the posted limit, and whoops! this is now a 30 area so I will slow down to 50"? Of course not. Speed limits only work if people obey them; if people don't obey them, the actual limit is irrelevant.
And so it is with the drink-drive laws. Ever notice how many people are caught at two and three times over the limit? Far more than would be expected from a normal distribution of blood-alcohol levels in the driving population. When people go over, they tend to go way over. It seems to me that the 80mg limit (which allows for a drink or perhaps two) is very good at keeping the majority of the driving population down to a reasonable level. For those who do drink and drive to excess, it doesn't matter whether the limit is 80, or 50, or zero - they are going to drink and drive no matter what. All that reducing the limit from 80mg to 50mg will do is to penalise responsible drivers. These drivers may well modify their behaviour to stay within the lower limit, but these weren't the people causing the problem in the first place. The change would make no difference to the accident rate, but would make criminals out of ordinary folk, and lead to further erosion of the idea that laws are obeyed by consent, not authoritarian compulsion.
Criminalising ordinary people, while leaving the real criminals unaffected and making no difference to the crime rate? Now where have I heard that before?
There is a good argument to be made that a realistic limit like 80mg is far more effective in reducing the number of accidents (which is surely the aim) than a more stringent lower limit. If people are going to drink and drive anyway (and they will - our whole society is structured around it, especially out of the towns and cities), then better a higher limit that people will respect and comply with, than a lower limit that everyone will ignore. Only if your purpose is to catch people and punish them, rather than reduce accidents, does the 50mg limit make sense.