First Rooney, now McPartlin: why celeb drink-driving conviction shows we need ZERO TOLERANCE
Ant McPartlin has been handed a hefty £86,000 fine and 20-month driving ban for drink driving, showing yet again that nobody is above the law when it comes to taking the wheel when under the influence of alcohol. It is believed to be Britain's biggest ever drink-drive fine.
While his sincere apology and acceptance of his sentence shows he knows how wrong he was, his incident is the latest in a string of celebrity cases – including Wayne Rooney – that will once again bring the topic of the drink-drive limit in England, Northern Ireland and Wales into mainstream debate.
McPartlin was twice the legal limit when he crashed in March, last year Wayne Rooney was almost three times over the limit.
Scotland has had a lower drink-drive limit for some time now, which brought it into line with most European countries. North of the border, the limit is set at 22mg of alcohol per 100-millilitres of breath compared to 35mg in the remainder of the UK.
In essence, this means a zero-tolerance policy in Scotland as the current limit allows for a driver to have a small amount of alcohol, such as you might experience the morning after a night out and a few drinks.
Some businesses that rely on selling alcohol in Scotland have complained the lower limit has had an adverse effect on their takings. Yet, it’s hard to see how anyone can make this statement when the effects of a lower drink-drive limit are clear to see.
We’ve yet to see the long term figures to prove the point, but Police Scotland already acknowledges the reduced limit has helped lower deaths and serious injuries in collisions on the roads. Simply put, there are fewer drivers on the road risking the opportunity to have an intoxicating drink and then getting behind the wheel.
This has been a quick and painless shift for most drivers in Scotland and they have accepted it not just with a shrug but with enthusiasm. The bad old days of thinking it’s okay to have a few drinks and you’ll still be okay to get behind the wheel are long gone.
Now, drivers stick to soft drinks when out with the car and in a pub, bar or restaurant. In a short space of time, Scotland has become a land of designated drivers.
Of course, there will always be the hardcore of drink-drivers who will take to the road regardless of any limit set by the government and police. What a lower limit with an effective zero tolerance approach does is free up police resources to tackle these persistent offenders rather than trying to spread their net much wider.
With this lower limit approaching its third birthday in Scotland, it’s also opened up much greater public acceptance of a move to a legal zero tolerance limit. Why wasn’t that introduced towards the end of 2014?
Well, a small margin means drivers are not being punished when they drive the morning after when there may be a very small residual amount of alcohol in their system. It also accounts for those who may have a token amount of alcohol from taking medication, such as certain cold remedies.
So, a move to change the limit across the whole of the UK to something barely above zero, such as 10mg per 100-millilitres of breath would, in essence, mean no drinking and driving.
Let’s get on with it and introduce this. For those in the UK not driving in Scotland, it might come as a culture shock to find you cannot have a glass of wine with a Sunday pub lunch or a pint of beer after work on a Friday evening.
However, these are small sacrifices for the benefits that are there to be had in reduced deaths and serious injuries on our roads. It’s a no-brainer.
Evidence from the National Institute for Health and Excellence (NICE) shows that any alcohol in the bloodstream of a driver impairs their ability and reactions. That’s not being drunk or tipsy, but any alcohol.
To make that point absolutely clear, NICE states that a driver who has had a drink but is within the Scottish legal limit is three times more likely to be involved in a collision than a driver with no booze in their system. It’s just not a risk worth taking.
Road safety charity Brake has renewed its call for the rest of the UK to fall more in line with the Scottish drink-drive limit. It’s campaigning for a zero tolerance drink drive limit of 20mg alcohol per 100ml of blood.
This isn’t a difficult piece of legislation to put into action and it would pass through Parliament unopposed, so let’s get on with it.
Just as importantly as its support for the lower drink-drive limit, Brake is also asking that it be backed up by greater police enforcement. The idea is simple here and it’s that drivers will adopt the new limit readily when they know there is a considerable likelihood of being caught if they exceed it.
This was the approach in Scotland in 2014 and, while some grumbled, the vast majority got on board with it. Now, it’s second nature to refuse alcohol when you know you have to drive in Scotland.
The same approach in the rest of the UK would work just as efficiently. Yes, there might be a short term expense in enforcing it with greater police presence on the roads, but the ongoing benefits are blatantly obvious for all to see.
There are also other advantages of this lower drink-drive limit. They include lower insurance premiums and less pressure on the NHS health system as there are fewer collisions to deal with. It frees up police time to deal with other crimes and it makes the roads safer for very user, most especially the more vulnerable such as pedestrians and cyclists.
While £86,000 might seem like a hefty punishment for McPartlin, the court was well within its right to impose such a sum.
You could be imprisoned, banned from driving and face a fine if you’re found guilty of drink-driving. The actual penalty you get is up to the magistrates who hear your case, and depends on your offence – fines can be unlimited.
One thing is for sure, until England, Northern Ireland and Wales adopt a lowered drink-drive limit, there will be wholly avoidable deaths and serious injuries on the roads due to alcohol in drivers’ systems. That is madness and it must stop.