John Hemming's Web Log John's Reference Website
Friday, June 18, 2010
  Is One Pint too much?
There is a discussion going on about whether or not the limit for blood alcohol should be reduced from 80mg/dl to 50mg/dl.

It is argued by some that this would reduce substantially the number of people who die in road accidents.

The problem is, however, that this is not generally accepted to be true.

There are two aspects to such a change. The first is whether there is a problem with people whose blood alcohol is between 50mg and 80mg causing large numbers of fatalities. The second aspect is whether making such a change would have the effect of reducing drink driving overall - a laudable objective.

The other question is whether it is worth introducing a particularly low limit for novice drivers of say 20mg/dl which says basically don't drink at all if you are not an experienced driver. I think there is a good argument for this as it would get new drivers into the habit of not drinking and driving.

To me, therefore, the key question for the 50mg/dl change is whether that would save lives or not.

There are those that say it would. At the same time, however, a report was written by Daniel Albalate into the effects of reducing the limit in other countries from 80 to 50.

He concluded

My main results show that lowering BAC limits to 0.5 mg/ml has been an effective
tool for saving lives in some road user groups. Of these groups, we emphasize
the cases of males, especially in urban areas, and all drivers between 18 and
49 years old. However, the 0.5 mg/ml BAC limits are not found to be statistically
significant for the whole population when one controls for other concurrent
policies and infrastructure quality, which can confound policy effects. Moreover,
I find some reasons to believe that a short time lag exists, and the biggest impacts
are not achieved until the third year following adoption of new BAC limits.


Interestingly also

The only country that established a lower BAC limit is Sweden, whose limit had been 0.5 mg/ml since 1957. Sweden decided to decrease it again, to 0.2 mg/ml. Portugal also passed a reduction in 2001, in an effort to force zero consumption, but after 1 year they returned to the 0.5 mg/ml. level because of economic pressures and no significant effectiveness.


What is also important to note is that road fatalities in the UK went down substantially after the above report was produced. Given that the UK was used as a control for this research it does warrant a further review.

There is more work to be done on this, but am unsure as to whether it is reasonable to rely upon the government's research in changing the law to prevent experienced driver from drinking even one pint of beer. It is clear that the opinion is not unchallenged and it warrants a more rigorous review.

Not least we should look moreso at the question of the novice drivers. There seems to be good evidence that they are more likely to be involved in drinking and driving and, therefore, warrant some attention.
 
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