Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Hurrah! A stupid law is wrecking an industry!

Last December, the Scottish government lowered the drink-drive limit from 80mg to 50mg per 100ml of blood. As has been widely reported, this has led to a 30 per cent drop in pub sales and is another hammer blow to the pub trade courtesy of the 'public health' racket.

This is depressing news, unless you are a journalist at the Independent, in which case damage to the economy is an end in itself...

Scotland's new drink-driving law is so successful it's damaging the economy, according to Bank of Scotland report

Scotland’s tough new drink-driving law is proving so successful at stopping people from indulging that it is damaging financial growth, according to one of the country’s top economists.

Wow. Is that what it's come to? Apparently so, as the theme was further developed in a pisspoor article in Vice yesterday that was positively gleeful about the coup de grace being delivered to Scottish pubs...

Scotland's New Drunk-Driving Law Is So Effective It’s Damaging the Economy

A new Scottish drunk-driving law introduced in December is proving to be so effective that it is actively damaging the economy, according to a Bank of Scotland (BoS) report published yesterday. It's a report that raises a number of questions, the most pressing of those being: Yo, how much of the Scottish economy is built on the cornerstone of people drunk-driving?

To which the answer is: Yo, being drunk has got nothing to do with it. The point of drunk-driving laws is, quite obviously, to stop people driving whilst drunk. When the breathalyser replaced roadside sobriety tests, the limit was set at a level below which anybody could reasonably be described as drunk. Indeed, it erred on the side of caution so that it would be a safe level for a little old lady and a heavyweight boxer alike.

Scotland has decided to jettison that limit and make the limit effectively zero, as 'public health' campaigners demanded. This has not only scared people off drinking one pint during the day, but from drinking much in the evening in case they are tested the next morning. It is this effect on people's evening drinking habits that really motivates the neo-temperance lobby. For the teetotalitarians, the negative consequences are a feature, not a bug. It's got nothing to do with road safety. It is about making people drink less, full stop. As the Independent notes...

The new law, which came into force in December, reduced the legal alcohol limit for Scottish motorists from 80mg to 50mg in every 100ml of blood. Drivers have been warned that having “no alcohol at all” is the only way to ensure they stay within the limit – and to avoid planning car journeys for the morning after a night drinking.

The thing is, people who drive with 50-79mg of alcohol in their system are not drunk and therefore cannot be drunk-drivers. They were not drunk last year and they do not magically become drunk just because a bunch of worthless politicians suddenly moved the goalposts. It is no more a 'crackdown' on drunk-driving than raising to age of consent to 21 would be a crackdown on paedophilia. It's an irrelevance, a distraction, a gimmick.

Reducing the drink-drive limit is a classic example of legislating for the sake of it. Everyone disapproves of drunk-driving so Something Must Be Done. You could try to enforce the law as it stands or you could piddle around with a new law with socially and economically damaging consequences. No prizes for guessing which option the Scottish government went for. Why bother going after the small minority of inebriated motorists when you can hassle people who have a swift half after work or who had a few drinks the night before? When you can't govern, legislate.

What's interesting about the Independent and Vice articles is that they are rejoicing in people drinking less in pubs as if that were the measure of success. Results have been divorced from putative intentions. The aim of drunk-driving laws is not—or, at least, should not be—to arrest people who are perfectly fit to drive, nor is it to close pubs down. The aim is to reduce alcohol-related traffic accidents.

On that score, there is very little evidence that reducing the blood alcohol limit makes any difference at all. 'Public health' and temperance campaigners often complain that the UK's limit is higher than nearly every other European state. This is true. Only Malta and Switzerland have a limit of 80mg, so they—along with the UK—must have more alcohol-related traffic accidents, right?

Er, no. I can't find the figures for Malta but the WHO have data on what percentage of road accidents involve alcohol. As you can see below, the UK and Switzerland both do better than average.

Looking at the total number of deaths on the road (per 100,000 motor vehicles) Britain and Switzerland also do significantly better than average.

This is not to say that Scotland won't see a decline in traffic accidents. Perhaps it will. But if it does, it will probably be because the government has reduced the number of journeys people make and thereby reduced the amount of traffic on the roads, not because it has deterred people from drunk-driving.

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