Tackling the reasons why people drink and drive is the key to reducing the number of people who commit this offence, says motor lawyer Jeanette Miller.
Road-safety campaigners are keen to lower our drink-driving limit, perhaps even to zero.
I can understand the attitude of zero tolerance for drink driving that most law-abiding motorists hold.
However, the reality often is not quite as black and white.
Drink driving often due to ignorance & poor judgement
The people who instruct my firm after being arrested on suspicion of drink driving are invariably in that situation as a result of ignorance or very poor judgement.
Of course, I am not disputing that drink driving kills.
However, I can't help but think that lowering the drink-drive limit, adopting a zero-tolerance policy and our harsh penalty system are not the only solutions.
I discussed this issue with some of the members of my team this week.
I thought some of our experiences may help to shed a different light on those accused of drink driving.
Why do people drink and drive?
- "I think it is partly a lack of understanding of the legal limits. A lot of clients say 'I only had two pints and you can drive with two pints'. They do not take into account absorption and elimination rates and that it varies accordingly to your individual factors such as height, weight, age." Victoria Miller, solicitor
The most ridiculous justification for drink driving?
- "They were on their way to an alcoholics anonymous meeting and decided to have just one." Alison Ashworth, trainee solicitor
- "A woman who told a court she should be given credit because she only drove to prove to her boyfriend, who had been ridiculing her driving skills to friends, that she could drive through the drive-through at McDonalds. She insisted that her boyfriend's apparent bullying should be taken into account. The court, unsurprisingly, disagreed and she was banned for the maximum period possible." Paul Loughlin, solicitor
The most sympathetic/empathetic explanation for drink driving?
- "I had a client who had serious emotional issues due to violent assaults by an ex-partner. She had an argument with a new partner and when he shouted at her she fled in panic, drove around the corner and pulled over. But someone called the police when they saw her crying in the car. I also had a client who moved his car out of the way of a fire door outside a hotel when they made him get out of bed for a fire drill. But the fire alarm monitoring system had notified the police who then breathalysed him!" Tara Boyle, director
- "A client who was terminally ill and had been in severe pain felt that the only thing that would help him sleep would be to have a few pints at his local social club which was a short half-mile journey away. He could not manage the journey walking due to his condition. With hindsight he admitted he should have got a taxi but being in the position where he hadn't slept due to the pain he made this foolish decision." Paul Loughlin, solicitor
- "People often tell me that they were taking a child or a friend to hospital for emergency treatment, which seems quite reasonable at first. But if you think about it properly, how much additional risk is there in a car with a drink driver than there is in waiting five or 10 minutes for an ambulance?" Steve Oldham, senior solicitor
How to reduce drink-drive numbers
It seems clear to me from my firm's experiences that the root of the problem is often ignorance and poor decision-making, sometimes fuelled by alcohol.
I am not convinced that lowering the drink-drive limit will reduce the numbers who commit this offence if there is no accompanying push to educate motorists.
I also think we need to be more creative with the penalties imposed for drink driving.
In the US, for example, partial disqualifications are often imposed so motorists can still drive for work purposes.
Current drink-drive limit encourages risk-taking
That said, the current drink-driving limit encourages risk-taking as people know that you can potentially have a couple of drinks and still drive legally.
I would have an additional tier at a level of say 20 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, which is effectively zero tolerance compared with the current 80mg/100ml limit.
This would attracted penalty points on your licence, a shorter ban or a driver-improvement course.
That way people would know to leave the car if they had a drink at all.
What do you think?
Do you agree with Jeanette Miller on how to reduce drink-drive numbers? What are your suggestions for tackling this problem?
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Jeanette Miller is managing director at Geoffrey Miller Solicitors, which specialises in defending drivers who face prosecution for motoring offences, including drink driving.
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