Johnstone’s View - Learning about enforcement

Last week, the Scottish Government expressed its intention to lower the alcohol limit at which it is legal to drive a motor vehicle on a public road from the current 80mg per 100ml of blood to the lower level of 50mg, and to have this change in place before Christmas of this year.

Although I have grave concerns over the required resources and the enforcement of this change, I will most likely vote to approve it.

The first lesson we should have learned by now is that it is NOT acceptable for anyone to assume that there is any level of alcohol consumption after which it is acceptable to jump in the car and drive home.

The reason that we have a set limit is so that we can easily identify those who have exceeded it, and make the prosecution stick. Never-the-less, when it comes to enforcement, there are still some important lessons to be learned from the way we have been policing our roads in recent years.

The message that ‘Speed Kills’ has been drummed into us for years now but however you paint this, it’s an oversimplification. Most of the European motorway network operates safely with a speed limit of 82 miles per hour and a safety record which puts us to shame. This might lead us to question if the resources directed to keeping us to the 70 mph limit on our better trunk roads is money well spent.

On many of our North-east trunk roads like the A90 and the A96 north of Aberdeen and, more locally, the Netherley road for example, the problems can often be caused by the frustration experienced by drivers encountering slow moving traffic as much as the effects of speeding.

For the most part, young drivers are not a problem when it comes to drink-driving, but inexperienced drivers who are possessed of massive over confidence remain a real concern. They are difficult to detect in the learning and testing process because they are often the better drivers, the quickest learners and the most likely to pass their driving test at the first attempt.

They then, however, go on to a have a series of accidents from which they appear to learn nothing.

Education is a vital step in improving the behaviour of our young drivers and their hostility towards drinking and driving is a tribute to work which has been done in our schools, with the assistance and involvement of the Police Force, over many years.

Engagement with those who are most likely to take inappropriate decisions which go on to endanger their own safety and that of others, has the potential to deliver positive results. We should be devoting more effort in that department.

Then there is the ever growing number of elderly drivers who may be experiencing a deterioration in their eyesight or perception and let’s not forget the disabled drivers for whom mobility is essential but who may drive with certain limitations which could conflict with the preconceptions of some other road users.

Alcohol is not the only cause of limited perception and their problems are compounded by ‘car hostile’ councils trying to keep traffic out of our town centres when we should be doing more to attract people in.

The other change we need to make is in the approach to policing our roads. Speed is not a proxy for safety; it is only a symptom of a much greater problem on our roads. The problem is not simply with speeding drivers, it is with BAD drivers.

The ever growing use of technology to identify and penalise those who are easiest to identify and most willing to confess their crime is, at one and the same time, allowing the most dangerous people on our roads to go undetected while driving a wedge into the relationship between the police and some of our most law abiding citizens.

The lowering of the drink-drive limit must not be accompanied by a shift of effort from pursuing those who may already be 2 or 3 times over the existing limit, to those who fall foul of the new lower limit and who may be easier to catch, more likely to admit their guilt and who will pay their fines without question. If we are to extend the limit, then we must provide the man-power and the money it will take to extend the effort. A speed camera can only tell if you are exceeding the speed limit.

It cannot judge the quality or safety of your driving, nor can it measure your blood alcohol level.

I want to see more high visibility policing on our roads as on our streets, more emphasis on cutting the statistics for deaths and injuries than on increasing the clear-up rates and, above all else, additional resources spent on extra policemen and women, not on gadgetry.