Friday, December 5, 2014

Scotland's New Alcohol Law is Crazy

I spent over a year of my life in Scotland, and the Scottish Government - of which I've been openly skeptical for a long time - has passed new legislation that's got me pretty frustrated. I heard about it on Friday's edition of Around Orkney, saw their corresponding blurb on their Facebook feed, and then I read about it in more detail on the BBC News website.

When I was in Scotland (back when they still had the same laws on this matter as the rest of the United Kingdom), I was appalled by how draconian both the laws and attitudes toward alcohol and motor vehicles were. I'm all for responsible driving, and I think that drunk driving ("drink driving" in the British vernacular) is an extremely serious issue. However, the British obsession with "health and safety" is disproportionate to the actual risks, and their attitude toward intoxicants and the operation of motor vehicles reflects that. I frequently dealt with people who wouldn't risk a single drink, even on a full stomach, if they intended to drive at any point within the intervening twenty-four hour period. The actual risk of impairment rarely factored into it - it was all about the law.

Now, Scotland has made that law even stricter. The Scottish government has lowered the legal limit for a driver's blood alcohol content. In the rest of the United Kingdom, the legal limit is 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood, and 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100 milliliters of breath. Scotland's limits are now 50 millileters for blood, and 22 micrograms for breath. So, rather than boosting enforcement of the existing draconian laws, they've just made the laws more draconian.
"There was a preconceived idea, perhaps, with people that maybe have a glass of wine while having a meal, the message now is don't drink at all. People that are gonna, perhaps, fall foul of the new legislation is ones that have a drink the night before, and obviously driving then in the morning, so if you have a drink the night before, the message is in the morning, don't be taking the car to work in the morning, just walk to work, or cycle, whatever the case may be, or taxi, so the message is: do not drink and drive."


"The proposed changes sends a clear message that there is no safe alcohol limit for drivers, so just don't drink and drive. And it reduces that element of, perhaps I can have a glass of wine with a meal on the afternoon of a Sunday, or whatever the case may be, or the night before, just, don't be drinking and driving, that's it, it's just a clear message."
- Police Scotland (Kirkwall) Road Safety Officer Jim Munro
This, my friends, is simply asinine.

One of my best friends, Gus (whom my longtime readers will remember) just happens to be a state trooper in our home state, and one of the state's leading specialists in alcohol and intoxicant identification and apprehension. I gave him a call and posed both of those statements to him, and he immediately dismissed them as ridiculous. He listed off a bunch of statistics, based upon actual science, and pertaining to how quickly the body metabolizes alcohol and how much alcohol must be in a person's system in order to cause impairment. His description was cogent, and although I understood it all, I don't remember the precise details. The bottom line, though, is that he was unequivocal that there was no reasonable expectation that an individual who had one drink with dinner would still be in any way inebriated the next day. My words, not his: PC Munro's statements are absurd, and have as much basis in science as the burning of witches or the conversion of lead into gold.

One of my favorite essays/lectures of all time is Aliens Cause Global Warming, which uses global warming as an object lesson in the use of pseudo-science to justify well-intentioned policy. Reducing drunk driving isn't just well-intentioned, it's important. Whether one is in America or Scotland, that goal is poorly served by misguided laws and hyperbole from public officials.

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