Friday, December 5, 2014

Scotland's new drunk driving law

UPDATE: The new drunk driving law is dampening economic growth. See here:

Not a pint.

Nor a single glass of wine.

Fuhgeddaboud a dram of whisky.

Scotland's blood alcohol concentration limit:

Starting this morning at midnight, it is illegal in Scotland to operate a vehicle if your blood alcohol concentration is higher than 0.05 (i.e., 50mg of alcohol per 50ml of blood). The rest of the U.K. will retain a 0.08 BAC.

A man who consumes only one pint of beer or glass of wine may or may not reach the 0.05 limit. His BAC will depend on several factors, including weight, age, metabolism, type of alcohol, amount of food consumed, and so on. Most men, however, will exceed the 0.05 limit with one pint of beer or glass of wine. If he drinks a craft beer with an above-average alcohol content, he'll almost certainly be over the limit.

For an average woman, the limit will be reached from half a pint of beer or a small glass of wine.

Pint of Westvleteren XII, the best beer in the world
My pint last week of Westvleteren XII, consistently voted the "best beer in the world." At 10.2% alcohol by volume, it'll push you well over Scotland's 0.05 BAC limit.
The average body will clear alcohol out of its blood at a rate of 15mg to 18mg per hour. So, in theory, if you consume one pint of beer or glass of wine and then wait an hour, you should fall below the legal limit. However, lots of variation remains: the alcohol content of the drink; metabolism rates; food consumed; age (older people clear alcohol faster than younger people); etc.

The lightning-fast implementation:

Scotland's Parliament voted to lower the drunk driving limit — called the "drink-drive" limit here — on November 18. Of this year. Its implementation was today, December 5.

No yearlong preparation. No extended public notification. Simply boom!, a new limit three weeks later.

Incidentally, the Scottish Parliament voted unanimously in favor of the new law. How often do you see a unanimous vote on domestic legislation? Not very often.

Penalties for drunk driving in Scotland:

Glass of Prosecco
Is a glass of bubbly Prosecco worth a yearlong ban?
If you are caught driving while over the 0.05 limit, you will be banned from driving for a minimum of 12 months. No discretion in sentencing for the ban. You also will pay a fine of up to £5,000. Furthermore, you may face as much as 6 months imprisonment. And, of course, you'll get some points on your license and your car insurance will skyrocket.

Some offenders may be allowed to complete a rehabilitation course, at their own expense. Successfully completing the course can reduce the driving ban by up to one quarter.

Also, employers will see your conviction if you must produce your license for work. And, travel to some countries, including the United States, can be denied in some instances for criminal convictions.

Blood alcohol concentration limits in the rest of Europe:

The United Kingdom, with its BAC limit of 0.08, is the highest in Europe. Only Malta has a similar leniency.

Scotland has broken with the rest of the U.K. and adopted a 0.05 BAC limit, in line with most European countries. Its limit now matches Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain, among others.

Lithuania has a 0.04 limit. Slovenia has a 0.024 limit. Several countries have set a 0.020 BAC limit, including Estonia, Poland, and Sweden. At that level it's almost a total ban, but allows for the possibility of alcohol from mouthwash or medication. The 0.020 limit seeks to avoid accidentally penalizing a driver with trace amounts of alcohol in his system.

Several nations, including Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, have a zero tolerance ban.

A number of countries have slightly varied limits, depending upon a few circumstances. Germany, for example, has a total ban for drivers under the age of 21 or those with less than two years of driving experience; a 0.030 limit for those involved in an accident; and a 0.050 limit for those not involved in an accident.

Checkpoints and vehicle stops:

While the U.S. Constitution's fourth amendment, regarding unreasonable searches and seizures, provides some (minor) restrictions on checkpoints and vehicle stops, no such limitations exist in Scotland or the rest of the U.K. Checkpoints can be erected at any time. Any moving violation can give rise to a roadside breathalyser test, as can essentially any suspicion on the part of a police officer. In fact, the police can stop any vehicle at any time with unfettered discretion.

Gone are the days that you can drive to a restaurant, have a glass of wine with your spouse during dinner, and come home. Without question, the only legal choice is to walk, ride public transportation, or take a taxi. Or have your spouse be a designated driver, which is certainly doable but not quite as convivial.

With a population of 5.3 million, Scotland has recently averaged about 20 deaths per year from drunk driving, as well as another 90 serious injuries and 300+ minor injuries. Presumably those numbers will go down, though most offenders who caused injury were well above the previous BAC limit. Will the Scots — a populace that romanticizes its drinking — happily acquiesce to a BAC limit that functions as an almost total ban? Time will tell.


  1. There are 6 pubs within walking distance of your house.

    1. Care to tell me how you came up with that figure?

      Regardless, there are more than six pubs within walking distance, depending on how far you're willing to walk. Of course, that kinda misses the point. Like most people, I don't drink much, and when I do, it's rarely at a pub. It's much more likely to be at a restaurant as a single drink with dinner. Ain't no way we're gonna limit ourselves to eating only at the restaurants within walking distance of our house. Just tonight, we dined at Firebird in the West End; I had a tall glass of water.

      In any case, I don't begrudge the new law. I support it.

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  8. Just a note for the folks who comment on this post with links to their businesses (some on-topic and others, oddly, not at all related). I have and will continue to delete your comments since they are inappropriate here.


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