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

Stricter rules on how much you can drink before you drive has led to a drop in bar sales as Scots are no longer popping down to the pub at lunchtime or on their way home from work.

by Joel Golby
14 April 2015, 2:50pm

A rough visual metaphor for what the new drunk-driving law is doing to the Scottish economy. Photo via Todd Dwyer.

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

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?

Turns out: a fair bit. As the BoS detailed yesterday, the private sector of the country's economy saw a "poor month" in March, with the bank's chief economist and extremely Scottishly named person Donald McRae attributing this dip in economic form to new drunk-drive limit laws introduced in December. "Manufacturing exporters have been affected by the falling euro," he said, "while services businesses in hospitality are seeing a changing pattern of spending resulting from the lowered alcohol limit while driving."

The new legal limit for Scottish motorists was reduced from 80mg in every 100ml of blood to 50mg in December, with drivers being warned that having "no alcohol at all" in their system was the only dead-on method to blowing a legal breathalyzer score. But 50mg is also a feasible amount of alcohol to have in your system after a not-even-decadent night out, or after having a glass of wine at lunchtime before your commute home hours later. The new law has essentially taken the concept of the cheeky pint after work and walked it out to a nice farm with long grass and wheat fields for it to run through one last time—tongue hanging and tail wagging, sweet, delirious eyes—and then solemnly lifted its rifle, taken aim, and shot it in the head. "Daddy," the new Scottish drinking law's children say, when it comes home. "Where's the concept of the cheeky after-work pint gone?" And the new Scottish drinking law goes to its shed and takes its hat off and just sobs. It sobs and it sobs and it sobs.

So how much has this new legal limit killed trade? According to the Independent, bar sales have dropped up to 60 percent in the two months following its introduction. Even accounting for the people who do Dry January skewing the figures, 60 percent is pretty massive, and the chief exec of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, Paul Waterson, has described the law responsible as a "draconian" and prohibition-esque attack on pubs. "It's stopped people having a drink at lunchtime, or having a drink on the way home from work. People aren't coming in for food with their families on a Sunday afternoon," he told the Independent. "We feel it's had an effect far worse than the smoking ban had in 2006. There's questions being asked about the future of the trade—it's probably the last nail in the coffin for independent operators."

If you're not Scottish, you're probably wondering how this affects you. Well, while the official police report on the impact of the new law won't be available until Autumn, initial figures from the first three weeks of police data saw 255 people were found drunk-driving compared to 348 over the same period in the previous year, a reduction of 27 percent. A spokesperson for the Scottish government said the country was "leading the way across the UK," with Northern Ireland currently considering the same thing. While the UK government has said it has no plans to reduce its 80mg limit—that is the joint highest drunk-drive limit in Europe—it isn't hard to foresee them following suit. The cuddly Labrador of the after-work pint will be taken out back and shot anew.

When that happens, perhaps we can learn from our northern brethren. Perhaps—as is suggested by the Bank of Scotland's report—Scottish drinkers haven't stopped drinking altogether because of the change in the drunk-drive limit. Perhaps they've just regulated themselves to accommodate it. And perhaps this is because the Scottish are holy, perfect drinkers, who have calculated precisely which combination of Buckfast and beer will allow them to achieve a perfectly legal 49mg on their eternal nemesis: the breathalyzer. Perhaps no Scottish driver has ever driven 100 percent sober, and they all snorkel just beneath the sea line of the legal limit, slightly buzzed on sherry, abiding always by the law and harming no one. The golden ratio of drinking has been solved, and it has been solved en masse by Scotland, a land of literal piss artists. Here's to you, Scotland. Here's to you and your economy.

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