Why we must increase punishment powers for drink drivers

This article originally appeared in the Kent on Sunday (6 July 2013)

We should all know the dangers of getting behind the wheel after we’ve had a few drinks – it can make an accident six times more likely to happen.

But whilst there has been a significant cultural shift over the past 30 years in our attitudes towards drink driving, there are still a persistent minority of motorists who continue to place their own and other people’s safety at risk.

For many years, Kent Police, working with Kent and Medway road safety teams, has run successive and successful campaigns reminding drivers not to drink and drive on our county’s roads.

But it is still a prevalent issue. For example, in just one month, over the Christmas period, 221 people were arrested across Kent and Medway for being over the legal limit.

Kent is also one of the top police areas for people caught driving under the influence of alcohol, with a total of 2,157 people arrested in 2012.

And the dangers of driving whilst under the influence of alcohol are clear – a person is killed in a collision on Kent’s roads every week with one in six of these deaths linked to drink driving.

Even a cursory glance in the local papers show weekly reports of drink driving incidents, with most of the motorists caught being two, three or even five times over the existing drink drive limit of 35mg of alcohol in 100ml of breath.

And they are all too likely to go on and commit the same offence again. It has been reported in Medway that a driver has been caught five times in 11 years but has still escaped a prison sentence.

It is clear to me that more should and can be done to reduce drink driving on our roads. This is why this week I have proposed a new Bill in Parliament to introduce tougher penalties for those who persistently drink and drive.

Did you know that the maximum sentence someone can currently receive for drink driving is six months?

And it’s the same for a first, second or even a fourth offence.

Under my proposals those caught drink driving for a third offence could face up to two years in jail.

The current penalties are not a powerful enough deterrent for the minority of drivers who continue to flagrantly disregard the law and put the safety of others on the road at risk.

More people are in fact killed as a result of drink driving than from knife crime. So why is it the case that the maximum penalty for carrying a knife is four years, but only six months for drink driving?

My proposal has been adopted in other countries such as in New Zealand where those caught over the limit for a third, or subsequent offence, face two years imprisonment.

And it’s a system we already have in place for other crimes, such as burglary, where an offender is automatically given a minimum prison sentence for a third offence.

I believe that it’s a system we need to put in place too for drink driving. In order to reduce drink driving casualties further we need to take a tougher stance and this proposal will send a clear message to those who continue to drink and drive that they will face up to two years in prison.