Northern Ireland set to slash drink-drive levels

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Northern Ireland is set to radically reduce the drink drive limit, cutting it by almost half.

The country's environment minister Alex Attwood says he wants to slash the limit from 80mg/100ml to 50mg/100ml to bring it in line with much of the rest of Europe.

He also wants to bring in even tougher laws for younger drivers and those that drive for a living, such as ambulance and taxi drivers.

The 50mg/100ml rule applies in several European countries, including France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands, while Spain has different levels for different sections of the driving population.

The limit reduction would put Northern Ireland on a different level to the rest of the UK, where the limit is currently 80mg/100ml.

Other changes proposed include a graduated punishment system that would allow fixed penalties at first offences at low alcohol levels, while worse or repeat offenders would face court prosecution.

Mr Attwood said: "Great improvements have been made in the drink-driving culture in Northern Ireland over the last two decades. Unfortunately, more needs to be done."

He pointed towards the fact that 75 people have been killed by drivers under the influence of drink or drugs over the last five years in Northern Ireland, while 463 have been seriously injured in the same time period.

"This is totally unacceptable and I am determined to do what I can to tackle this issue once and for all," Mr Attwood said.

Safety campaigners Brake welcomed the announcement in Northern Ireland, but said that they would like to see the rest of the UK follow with its own tightening of laws.

"We welcome these moves in Northern Ireland to help tackle the devastating, needless and costly casualties caused by drink driving. In particular, we support proposals for a lower drink drive limit, and random breath testing powers for police," said Julie Townsend, Brake's campaigns director, who would like to see a UK drop go even further.

"Brake would like to see a tougher regime than that proposed in Northern Ireland. We advocate a zero tolerance drink drive limit of 20mg per 100ml of alcohol for all drivers, in line with evidence that even very small amounts of alcohol affect your driving," she said

However, a spokesman for the Department for Transport said it is unlikely that the rest of the UK will follow suit, despite the North Report last year recommending a cut over here as well.

"Having considered the issues carefully and considered views from all quarters, I not only believe that it is right to reduce the limit, but that the public is ready for a lower limit," said Sir Peter North.

He estimated that as many as 168 lives could be saved in the first year of a reduction, with this figure rising to 303 in the sixth year.

However, transport secretary Philip Hammond said in March that "[the Government does] not believe that widening the scope of the drink-drive offence by lowering the limit is consistent with our approach."

Instead the government looks set to concentrate on improving enforcement and education of drivers.