Impact of legislation to reduce the drink-drive limit on road traffic accidents and alcohol consumption in Scotland: a natural experiment study

Jim Lewsey, Houra Haghpanahan, Daniel Mackay, Emma Mcintosh, Jill Pell, Andy Jones

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report

13 Downloads (Pure)


Background: It is widely recognised that drink driving is a leading cause of road traffic accidents (RTAs). There is evidence that changing the drink-drive limit from a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 to 0.05 g/dl is effective in reducing RTAs. Scotland changed the blood alcohol concentration limit to 0.05 g/dl on 5 December 2014.
Aims: To assess whether or not the numbers and rates of RTAs and per capita alcohol consumption in Scotland were reduced because of the 2014 drink-drive legislation. To assess whether or not the 2014 change in legislation provided good value for money.
Design: A natural experimental, quantitative study. The control group was England and Wales, that is, the other countries in Great Britain, where the drink-drive legislation remained unchanged.
Setting: Great Britain.
Participants: The entire population of Scotland, England and Wales for the period of January 2013– December 2016.
Intervention: The change to drink-drive legislation in Scotland.
Outcome measures: The counts and rates of RTAs; and per capita alcohol consumption.
Methods: For the numbers and rates of RTAs (both traffic flow and population denominators were used), and separately for the intervention and control trial groups, negative binomial regression models were fitted to panel data sets to test for a change in outcome level after the new 2014 legislation was in place. To obtain a ‘difference-in-differences’ (DiD)-type measure of effect, an interaction term between the intervention group indicator and the binary covariate for indicating pre and post change in legislation (‘pseudo’-change for the control group) was assessed. For off- and on-trade per capita alcohol sales, and separately for the intervention and control trial group, seasonal autoregressive integrated moving average error models were fitted to the relevant time series.
Results: The change to drink-drive legislation was associated with a 2% relative decrease in RTAs in Scotland [relative risk (RR) 0.98, 95% CI 0.91 to 1.04; p = 0.53]. However, the pseudo-change in legislation was associated with a 5% decrease in RTAs in England and Wales (RR 0.95, 95% CI 0.90 to 1.00; p = 0.05). For RTA rates, with traffic flow as the denominator, the DiD-type estimate indicated a 7% increase in ratesfor Scotland relative to England and Wales (unadjusted RR 1.07, 95% CI 0.98 to 1.17; p = 0.1). The change to drink-drive legislation was associated with a 0.3% relative decrease in per capita off-trade sales (–0.3%, 95% CI –1.7% to 1.1%; p = 0.71) and a 0.7% decrease in per capita on-trade sales (–0.7%, 95% CI –0.8% to –0.5%; p < 0.001). Conclusion: The change to drink-drive legislation in Scotland in December 2014 did not have the expected effect of reducing RTAs in the country, and nor did it change alcohol drinking levels in Scotland. This main finding for RTAs was unexpected and the research has shown that a lack of enforcement is the most likely reason for legislation failure. Future work: Investigations into how the public interpret and act on changes in drink-drive legislation would be welcome, as would research into whether or not previous change in drink-drive legislation effects on RTAs in other jurisdictions are associated with the level of enforcement that took place.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jun 2019

Publication series

NamePublic Health Research
PublisherNIHR Journals Library
ISSN (Print)2050-4381

Cite this