Monday, June 11, 2018

As One EU State Acts Firmly on Road Haulage Drink Driving Laws the UK Settles for a Quick Fix

Government Studies Road Safety and Launches Competition to Find New Mobile Breathalyser
Shipping News Feature
UK – EUROPE – The UK government has just announced it intends to impose 'swifter justice' on those who transgress drink driving laws and also pledged £480,000 for the RAC Foundation to trial an innovative new approach to road casualty investigation, looking more closely at what is really causing road collisions. The plan also includes a new £350,000 competition to devise and bring to market a new mobile breathalyser. Meanwhile in Lithuania the legislators plan to mandate safety technology to avoid the problem of drink driving in the road haulage sector.

Whilst the British government move may be seen as welcome, some might say that once again the authorities are missing the chance to lead the way in cutting the death and injury toll caused by drivers who are worse the wear from alcohol. In February last year a study in Brussels resulted in both the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament declaring their support for alcohol locks to be fitted to new vehicles, a cause we have supported now for several years.

Whilst countries such as Finland have forced the introduction of such devices, which prevent the engine being started if the driver has alcohol on his or her breath, on school buses, the uptake across Europe generally has been lamentable. A useful guide to the take up of the technology can be seen here on the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) website, with only Lithuania planning to force commercial vehicle operators to fit the devices, whilst others have a patchwork of regulations. Ireland plans to insist convicted drunk drivers fit the immobilisers to their vehicles in the future.

Whilst in the UK the number of deaths annually from drunken driving averages almost a thousand in the past twenty years or so, with over 3,500 also seriously injured, we have seen draconian (and expensive changes) to vision standards for road haulage vehicles in London, with the laudable purpose of reducing the annual death toll of cyclists (usually below 20) yet no move to introduce now established alcohol lock technology countrywide which, according to some analysts, cuts drink related road deaths by 95%.

The idea behind the UK government’s latest competition scheme is to enable police to instantly deduce if a driver is committing an offence by establishing a reliable roadside breath test. This negates the problem of officers needing to take suspects back to the police station for a further test, this avoiding wasted time and meaning those marginally over the drink drive limit will not have extra time to ‘sober up’ and stand a chance of passing a later test at the station. Something unlikely to go down well with a variety of interests.

Despite permissible alcohol blood levels in the UK (except Scotland) being higher at 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood compared to the European limit of 50 milligrammes, the latest figures show that fewer people died on British roads in 2015 as a result of drink driving than in any year since records began. In 2016, more than 460,000 people undertook breath tests, with almost 59,000 testing positively or refusing a test.

The new competition to find a better testing system is being run by the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) in the summer, and will invite companies to submit proposed technologies which will rapidly calculate the amount of ethanol in exhaled breath for use at the roadside. It is expected police forces throughout the UK will be able to use the device by summer 2020.

The Government has also announced investigation teams dedicated to analysing the cause of road collisions will be deployed to UK roads later this year, as part of plans to improve road safety. Supported by that £480,000 of government funding, the RAC Foundation will lead the trial of an innovative new approach to road casualty investigation alongside police forces, the DfT, Highways England and the DVSA with dedicated teams carrying out in-depth research in selected cases to get a better understanding of what is really causing accidents on our roads.

Drawing on the example of the internationally recognised Accident Investigation Branches for Rail, Maritime and Aviation, collisions will be analysed in three regions over three years. RAC Foundation Director Steve Gooding said:

“We are keen to seize the opportunity to work with the DfT, the Police and others to explore the scope for learning more about the causes of the road crashes that continue to blight – and curtail - so many lives, in particular to establish the practicalities, costs and full benefits of tackling and pre-empting them more effectively.”

Photo: After nearly overturning this truck whilst in the Dartford Tunnel the driver, almost four times over the drink drive limit, finally managed the feat on the M11 motorway in November last year. The driver received a prison sentence for a crash in which, miraculously, nobody was injured.