In 2013 between 220 and 260 people were killed in accidents in the UK where at least one driver was over the drink drive limit. There were an estimated 240 deaths.1.
These figures are too high but accidents involving drink driving have decreased hugely over the last 35 years. Deaths and serious injuries related to drink driving fell by more than three-quarters between 1979 and 20122.
In England and Wales, the alcohol limit for drivers is 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, 35 microgrammes per 100 millilitres of breath or 107 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of urine. In most other European countries, the limit is less, usually 50 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood3.
The alcohol limit for drivers in Scotland is different than for the rest of the UK. In December 2014 the limit was reduced to 50 milligrams of alcohol in every 100 millilitres of blood4. The breath alcohol equivalent reduced to 22 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath5.
The Scottish Government say they have changed their drink drive limit to bring Scotland in line with most other European countries, to save lives and make Scotland’s roads safer.
There is no fool-proof way of drinking and staying under the limit. The amount of alcohol you would need to drink to be considered over the driving limit varies from person to person. It depends on6:
- Your weight, age, sex and metabolism (the rate your body uses energy)
- The type and amount of alcohol you’re drinking
- What you’ve eaten recently
- Your stress levels at the time
Even small amounts of alcohol can affect your ability to drive so the only safe advice is to avoid any alcohol if you are driving.
Many of the functions that we depend on to drive safely are affected when we drink alcohol:
- The brain takes longer to receive messages from the eye
- Processing information becomes more difficult
- Instructions to the body's muscles are delayed resulting in slower reaction times.
You can also experience blurred and double vision, which affects your ability to see things clearly while you are driving. And you’re more likely to take potentially dangerous risks because you can act on urges you normally repress (7).
Even small amounts of alcohol affect your ability to drive and the only safe advice is to avoid any alcohol if you are driving.
If the police want to investigate whether you are over the drink driving limit, they will carry out a screening breath test at the roadside. To do this, they will use a breathalyser.
If you fail this test, or if they have other grounds to believe that your driving was impaired through drink, you’ll be taken to a police station and given a final breath test. At the station you will need to provide two more breath specimens into a complex breathalyser.
The lower of the two readings is used to decide whether you are above the drink driving limit.
If the evidential breath sample is up to 40% over the limit you have the right to replace your breath specimen with blood or urine – the police officer will decide which test you will have. If your evidential samples show that you are over the limit, you will be charged.
The police can carry out a breathalyser test if you have committed a moving traffic offence (such as banned turns or going through a red light) been involved in an accident, or have given the police grounds to believe you are over the limit.
The police are allowed to stop any vehicle at their discretion, and will often set up drink driving check points over periods such as Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Anyone caught over the legal alcohol limit when driving will be banned from driving for at least 12 months, and fined up to £5,000. You can also be given between three to 11 penalty driving points. And you could be sent to prison for up to six months. Imprisonment, the period of disqualification, size of fine and penalty points depend on the seriousness of the offence8.
If you’re caught drink driving more than once in a 10 year period, you’ll be banned for at least three years.
- Arrange within your group of friends who's going to be the designated driver. A designated driver is the person who abstains from alcohol on a night out so they can drive the rest of their group of friends home safely.
- If you live somewhere with good public transport links – take advantage of them. If you’re planning on staying out beyond the last train, tube or bus, make sure you’ve got a couple of taxi numbers.
- If you have no option but to drive, stick to zero alcohol beers, mocktails or standard soft drinks.
- Not every night out has to involve a bar or pub - book a table at a restaurant or try one of our alcohol-free nights on the town ideas.
- Find out if you are safe to drive the morning after drinking.
- For more information about the drink driving limit in Scotland visit the Don’t Risk It campaign site.
- Find out about drink driving penalties
- Get the facts on alcohol and accidents
- Think! Road Safety campaign website
- The Institute of Alcohol Studies’ factsheet on Drinking and Driving
- 1) (2) Gov.uk website. Reported Road Casualties in Great Britain: 2014 annual Report (published in September 2015). Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/reported-road-casualties-great-britain-annual-report-2014
(3) (4) (5) (6) Gov.uk website. The drink drive limit. Last reviewed: 28/1/2015. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/drink-drive-limit
- (7) C. Fernando Valenzuela. ‘Alcohol and Nerotrasmitter Interactions’, Alcohol Health & Research World. Available at: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh21-2/144.pdf
- (8) Gov.uk website. Penalties and the Highway Code. Last reviewed: 2/10/2015. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/highway-code-penalties/penalty-table