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Women drivers could force a draconian drink-driving limit on us. Why not set a higher limit for men?

19 May 2015

12:15 PM

19 May 2015

12:15 PM

Drink-driving is back. Which isn’t to say it’s on the rise – quite the contrary –but it’s high on the agenda at every level of government. The Department for Transport has recently stopped offering an alternative to the notoriously inaccurate roadside breathalyser.

In Scotland the limit was reduced last year from 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood to just 50. This was controversial because it means that a pint, depending on alcohol percentage, could put you over the limit.

Now the Police Federation has called for the drink-drive limit to be similarly lowered in England and Wales – and it’s all the fault of women, apparently. The organisation believes that the law needs to be strengthened to deter the fairer sex from committing the offence. This despite the fact that in 2012 less than a fifth of prosecutions involved female drivers.

The Police Federation believes that men have changed their drinking habits, but women haven’t. Drink-driving among women is on the decline, but it’s declining more slowly.


In 2013, 1,713 people were killed on the roads. This means that fatalities were halved in ten years. But the Police Federation’s concerns aren’t limited to road safety. Their reputation would be damaged if the downward trend failed to continue.

It’s not fashionable to suggest it, but perhaps the answer is a higher drink-drive limit for men. Social justice warriors don’t like shades of grey, but men and women process alcohol differently. Women (on average) weigh less. Alcohol disperses in body water and they have less of that too. They even absorb more of the harmful by-products of alcohol.

Multiple studies have found that it is more dangerous to drive when sleep-deprived than drunk. Researchers discovered that driving after 17 hours of being awake is as risky as driving at Scotland’s new legal limit. It is estimated that up to half of all motor accidents are caused by sleep deprivation. But fatigue isn’t easy to measure, and so it isn’t the subject of scrutiny, despite being more dangerous.

Drink-driving prosecutions in Scotland have fallen by a third, so the policy does seem to be working. It would probably achieve similar results in England and Wales.

The Police Federation’s line seems to make sense, in other words. But it’s a mistake to take any ‘demand’ coming from that body at face value. Remember, it’s really a trade union and it increasingly behaves like one. 

Lowering the drink-drive limit would give the police an opportunity to step up their war on the motorist. Harassing car drivers is an easy job, and if there’s anything the police like it’s an easy job. They aren’t nearly as good at catching people who steal cars, for example.

The Police Federation are chasing targets, but they are up against the law of diminishing returns. Every year the ONS brings us good news about the decline in drink-driving deaths and convictions. There follows ever more sensationalist efforts to boost ‘awareness’. When drink-driving deaths eventually plateau, expect the advertising campaigns to be apocalyptic.


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