Press release

Government crackdown on drink and drug driving

Improved testing equipment to detect drink and drug drivers to get go-ahead and key changes to streamline enforcement.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


A package of measures to tackle drink and drug driving was announced today (21 March 2011) by Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond.

Improved testing equipment to detect drink and drug drivers will be given the green light and key changes made to streamline enforcement of both offences.

The government will also examine the case for a new specific drug driving offence - alongside the existing one - which would remove the need for the police to prove impairment on a case-by-case basis where a specified drug has been detected.

The measures are set out in the government’s response to the North report on drink and drug driving, which was published last year.

The prescribed alcohol limit for driving will not be changed, with the focus instead on improving enforcement and education to tackle the drink and drug drivers who put lives at risk.

Philip Hammond said:

Drink and drug driving are serious offences and we are determined to ensure they are detected and punished effectively.

It is just as dangerous to drive impaired by drugs as alcohol so we need to send a clear message that drug drivers are as likely to be caught as drink drivers and that drug driving is as socially unacceptable as drink driving has become. That is why we will approve drug-testing devices and change the law to speed up the testing process, ensuring the police can bring drug drivers to justice.

The number of drink driving deaths has fallen by more than 75% since 1979. But drink driving still kills hundreds of people so we need to take tough action against the small minority of drivers who flagrantly ignore the limit. Their behaviour is entrenched and after careful consideration we have concluded that improving enforcement is likely to have more impact on these dangerous people than lowering the limit.

We are therefore taking forward a package of measures which will streamline enforcement, helping the police to target these most dangerous offenders and protect law-abiding road users.

On drink driving the government will:

  • revoke the right for people whose evidential breath test result is less than 40% over the limit to opt for a blood test (the ‘statutory option’). The breath testing equipment used in police stations is now very accurate and technically sophisticated so a blood sample is not needed to confirm the breath test. The need to organise a blood sample can mean that drivers who were over the limit when breath tested have fallen below the limit by the time their blood sample is taken - removing the statutory option will eliminate this loophole
  • introduce a more robust drink drive rehabilitation scheme, so that we can require those drink drivers who are substantially in excess of the limit to take remedial training and a linked driving assessment before recovering their licence
  • approve portable evidential breath testing equipment for the police - this will speed up the testing process and free up police time
  • close a loophole used by high risk offenders to delay their medical examinations
  • streamline the procedure for testing drink drivers in hospital

On drug driving the government will:

  • approve preliminary drug-testing equipment, initially for use in police stations, and at the roadside as soon as possible - the Home Office is currently testing six drug-testing devices and hopes to be able to take decisions on type-approval by the end of June
  • allow custody nurses to advise the police whether or not a suspected driver has a condition that may be due to a drug, this will remove the need to call out police doctors and so speed up the testing process - ensuring that drug drivers do not escape punishment because a doctor is not available and also freeing up police time
  • examine the case for a new specific drug driving offence - alongside the existing one - which would remove the need for the police to prove impairment on a case-by-case basis where a specified drug has been detected

The full response to the North report, also includes the department’s response to the Transport Select Committee’s report on the same subject.

Notes to editors

Drink driving - the figures

Deaths from drink driving have fallen 77% since 1979:

  • 1979 - 1,640
  • 2009 - 380 (provisional figure)

Latest coroners’ data (2008) shows that of drivers and riders killed in road accidents:

  • around a fifth (18%) were over the drink drive limit
  • 12% - two-thirds of all those who were over the limit - had more than twice the legal amount of blood alcohol in their body
  • 7% of those killed - 40% of those who were over the limit - were at least 2.5 times over the limit
  • 82% were below the prescribed limit (80 milligrammes per 100 milliliters of blood)
  • 2% were between 51 and 80mg/100ml

81,000 people were convicted in England and Wales in 2008.

Drug driving - the figures

We do not have the level of information available about drug drivers that we have for drink drivers as they cannot be so easily tested.

Sir Peter North quotes figures which show a six-fold increase in the incidence of illicit drugs in samples taken from victims of fatal road accidents between 1989 and 2000.

In 2009 impairment by drugs (illicit and medicinal) was recorded as a factor in 46 fatal accidents (2% of total) and 169 serious accidents (1% of total). However, we believe that this is under-reported because of the difficulty of testing drug drivers and so believe that the real figure is likely to be higher.

Drink and drug driving - the law

It is an offence to drive when over the drink drive limit. The breath alcohol limit is 35 microgrammes per 100 millitres of breath and the blood alcohol limit is 80 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood.

It is illegal to drive while unfit through drugs. The penalties are the same for drink driving and drug driving

On conviction, a minimum 12 month disqualification and a maximum fine of £5,000.

The record of disqualification remains on a licence for 11 years which can mean problems for those who drive for a living.

Such convictions can mean difficulties in renting cars or getting visas for some countries.

The North review into drink and drug driving

Sir Peter North’s report on drink and drug driving law.

The Transport Select Committee’s report into Sir Peter’s review.

Roads media enquiries

Published 21 March 2011