Anti-drink driving reform in Britain, c. 1920-80

Addiction. 2010 Sep;105(9):1538-44. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.02983.x. Epub 2010 Jun 7.


Aim: The goal of this report is to provide a framework for understanding and interpreting political, scientific and cultural attitudes towards drink driving in 20th-century Britain. Exploring the inherent conservatism of successive governments, Members of Parliament (MPs) and the public towards the issue during the interwar years, the contribution seeks to explain the shift from legislative paralysis to the introduction of the breathalyser in 1967.

Design: Based on governmental, parliamentary and administrative records, the report follows a mainly narrative route. It places particular emphasis on connections between post-war extra-parliamentary and parliamentary movements for reform.

Setting: The paper follows a linear path from the 1920s to the 1970s. Britain lies at the heart of the story but comparisons are made with nations--particularly the Scandinavian states--which took radical steps to prosecute drinking and dangerous drivers at an early date.

Findings: The report underlines the vital post-war role played by Graham Page, leading parliamentary spokesman for the Pedestrians' Association; the centrality of the Drew Report (1959) into an 'activity resembling driving'; the pioneering Conservative efforts of Ernest Marples; and Barbara Castle's consolidating rather than radically innovative activities between 1964 and 1967.

Conclusion: Both before and after the Second World War politicians from both major parties gave ground repeatedly to major motoring organizations. With the ever-escalating growth of mass motorization in the 1950s, both Conservative and Labour governments agonized over gridlock and 'murder on the roads'. Barbara Castle finally took decisive action against drink drivers, but the ground had been prepared by Graham Page and Ernest Marples.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / prevention & control
  • Accidents, Traffic / statistics & numerical data
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects
  • Alcohol Drinking / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Alcohol Drinking / metabolism
  • Automobile Driving / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Automobile Driving / statistics & numerical data
  • Breath Tests
  • Ethanol / analysis
  • Female
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Politics*
  • Public Opinion
  • Public Policy / history
  • Records
  • Scandinavian and Nordic Countries
  • Substance Abuse Detection / legislation & jurisprudence
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • World War II


  • Ethanol