Drink Driving and the Legal Alcohol Limit

In 2012, 1,200 people were injured after a driver got behind the wheel whilst over the legal alcohol limit. Because of this, 280 people were killed in drink driving incidents.

The figures are alarming but there is at least one positive that can be seen in the statistics – the number of accidents caused by drink driving has dropped hugely over the last 35 years. Deaths and major injuries resulting from  to drink driving have dropped by more than three-quarters since 1979.

What’s the Law on Drink Driving in England and Wales?

The alcohol limit for drivers in England and Wales is 80 milligrams of alcohol for every 100 millilitres of blood, 35 micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath, or 107 milligrams per 100 millilitres of urine. This is generally higher than other European countries.

What Is the Alcohol Limit for Driving in Scotland?

The limit for drivers in Scotland recently decreased. As of December 5th, 2014 the limit went from 100 millilitres of blood to 50 milligrams of alcohol in every 100 millilitres of blood. The current level is 22 micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath from 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath.

The Scottish Government changed the limit in order to bring Scotland closer to the other European countries. They also did it do help save lives and make Scotland’s roads safer for all drivers. Controversially though, a 2018 study by researchers from Strathclyde University revealed that the reduced limit has not resulted in a statistically significant overall drop in road deaths in Scotland, even at night time or the weekends.

How Much Can I Drink and Stay under the Limit?

There is not a proven formula for drinking and staying under the limit. The amount of alcohol you can consume before going over the limit varies from person to person. It depends on different factors including:

  • Weight
  • Gender (men tend to process alcohol faster)
  • Metabolism
  • Type and amount of alcohol you’re consuming
  • Current stress levels
  • The amount of food in your stomach
  • Age (younger people often process alcohol more slowly)

The smallest amounts of alcohol can affect your ability to drive. It is best to avoid driving all together if you have consumed alcohol.

How Alcohol Affects Driving

The functions that we use for driving are affected by consuming alcohol. Some of these functions include:

  • The brain takes longer to receive messages from the eye
  • Processing information becomes more challenging
  • Slower reaction times occur when instructions are delayed to the body’s muscles

Blurred and double vision affects your ability to see. These are both common symptoms of alcohol consumption. You are more likely to take risks because you do not see the danger.

How Would I Be Tested for Drink Driving?

The smallest amounts of alcohol can affect your driving ability. Your safest bet is to avoid all alcohol when you are planning on driving.

If the police want to check your blood alcohol level, they will do a breath test after asking you to pull off the road. This is done through the use of a Breathalyser.

If you manage to fail the test or the police have other reason to believe your driving is impaired due to alcohol, you will be arrested and taken to the police station.

When you arrive to the station you will need to take two more complex Breathalyser tests with a tool called an evidential breath-testing instrument.The lower of the readings will be used to determine your blood alcohol level content when you were driving.

If your sample is more than 40% over the limit you are able to replace your breath sample with urine or blood instead. The police officer will determine which test is best for you. In the case that your samples show that you are over the limit, you will be criminally charged.

The police can administer a Breathalyser test if you have broken a moving traffic law such as turning on a red light, which has resulted in an accident. They can also administer this test if the police believe you are over the legal blood alcohol content level.

The police are given the right to stop any vehicle at their discretion. They often set up checkpoints on holidays such as Christmas and New Year’s Eve when people are known to drink.

What’s the Punishment If I Get Caught Drink Driving?

Anyone who is caught behind the wheel and over the limit will have his or her license revoked for at least 12 months and fined about £5,000. In addition, your license can be fined 3-11 points. Lastly, you can be sent to prison for up to six months. The punishment is dependent on the seriousness of the offence.

If you are caught drinking and driving more than once within ten years, your license will be revoked for three years at the minimum.

How to Ensure You Don’t Drink and Drive

  • Always make sure you have a designated driver among your group of friends. This is the person that avoids drinking alcohol in order to provide safe transportation home to the group at the end of the night.
  • Take advantage of public transportation. If you are staying out later than the last bus, it does not hurt to have phone numbers to local taxi companies saved in your phone.
  • If you have to drive, drink alcohol-free beers, mocktails, or soft drinks.
  • You do not have to go to a bar every night. It is okay to visit a local restaurant from time to time.

Another important tip is to plan ahead before heading out. This means knowing in advance how you will get home safely and sticking to that plan no matter what. It can be helpful to have a backup plan as well, just in case something unexpected happens.

It is also important to be aware of your limits and avoid overindulging in alcohol. Know when to stop drinking and switch to non-alcoholic beverages or simply stop altogether.

If you are hosting a party or gathering, be sure to have plenty of non-alcoholic options available for guests, and encourage them to have a designated driver or use a ride-sharing service if they plan on drinking.

Finally, remember that drinking and driving can have serious consequences, not only for yourself but for others on the road. By taking steps to ensure you don’t drink and drive, you can help keep yourself and those around you safe.

Photo Credit: “Day 336 – Police launch anti-drink drive” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by West Midlands Police

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This post was originally published in November 2017. It was last updated in June 2023.

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