I thought they were all drunk: they were driving on the wrong side of the road. But they weren’t drunk, they were just driving in Scotland. And so was I. I drove on the left, sat on the right, and shifted with my left on the endless roundabouts and turns. I navigated all the sheep, stone walls, and cliffs as I drove from the English countryside to the Scottish highlands, so I consider my recent holiday a driving success. The trip prompted me to compare the drunk driving laws of Ohio to the ‘drink driving’ laws of Scotland.
Scotland has a lower ‘per se’ alcohol limit than Ohio. In Ohio, it is illegal to drive at or above an alcohol level of .08%. In Scotland, where the drinking age is 18, the prohibited alcohol level changed in December of 2014 to .05%. That limit is lower than the rest of the United Kingdom, which remains at .08%, but higher than some countries, like Sweden which is .02%. A comparison of the drunk driving laws of several nations is available on the website of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
There are differences in sentencing between Ohio and Scotland. For a first OVI offense in Ohio, the license suspension is a minimum of six months*. For a first offense of driving whilst above the legal limit in Scotland, the license disqualification is a minimum of 12 months, and that disqualification period may be reduced by completing a 16-hour ‘drink driver’s rehabilitation course’. The fine in Ohio is a maximum of $1,075, but the fine in Scotland is a maximum of 5,000 pounds: about $7,600 with the current exchange rate. Both Ohio and Scotland have a maximum jail sentence of six months, but Ohio has a minimum of three days while Scotland has no minimum jail term. Both Ohio and Scotland increase penalties for subsequent offenses: Ohio has a six-year look-back period**, and Scotland’s is ten years.
The investigation of ‘drink driving’ in Scotland differs some from investigations in Ohio. Officers in Scotland do not use field sobriety tests. Instead, if a Scottish officer suspects a driver is intoxicated, the officer administers a roadside alcohol breath test. If the driver fails the roadside test, the driver is arrested and taken to a police office. There, the driver must submit to a breath test: failure to provide a breath sample, either for the roadside test or the police station test, is a crime with penalties similar to the penalties for drink driving. If the result of the breath test is below .05%, the driver is given the option of also taking a blood test or urine test.
While Ohio and Scotland have some differences in penalties and procedures, the difference gaining the most attention is Scotland’s lower alcohol limit. Scotland Police credit a 25% reduction in drink driving arrests to behavioral change resulting from the lower limit. They also believe the change has led to fewer domestic violence incidents, as reported by Auto Express UK. On the other hand, ‘The Independent’ reports the change has negatively affected Scottish pub owners and is damaging the Scottish economy.
I added to the economy at the Scottish pubs, but I did not drink drive in Scotland. It wasn’t so much the lower alcohol limit which deterred me. It was more my concern about negotiating oncoming traffic on wee little “two-lane” roads which were really 1.5 lanes at best. If you make the trip, you’ll be glad you had tea instead of a pint when you’re reading Gaelic traffic signs and driving clockwise on roundabouts. Cheers!
UPDATE ON SCOTLAND’S LOWER ‘LEGAL LIMIT’
A study sponsored by the Scottish government concluded the lowered ‘per se’ limit in 2014 has not reduced the number of traffic accidents in Scotland. The results were reported in December, 2018 in this Daily Mail article.
*The minimum duration of the driver license suspension was increased to one year on April 6, 2017.
**The ‘lookback period’ for Ohio OVI charges was increased to ten years on April 6, 2017.