Drink driving and the legal alcohol limit
Get the facts on drink driving and the law in the UK
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Drink driving kills. Drinking alcohol slows down your reactions and impairs judgement, making your driving unsafe and putting you, and others, at greater risk of accidents.
The safest and best advice is to avoid alcohol completely if you have to drive. And remember, if you do drink, there could still be enough alcohol in your system the next morning to mean you’re over the limit, and not safe to drive.
An estimated 7,800 people were killed or injured in drink driving accidents in the UK in 2019.1
Many of the functions that we depend on to drive safely are affected when we drink alcohol:
Drinking affects your reaction times, your vision and your ability to concentrate, which means you can’t control the car as well.2 And you’re more likely to engage in risk taking behaviour after drinking,3 which can mean your driving is more dangerous.
There are strict alcohol limits for drivers in all parts of the UK – and they are different in Scotland than England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The limits are based on the amount of alcohol detected in someone’s breath, blood or urine.
It isn’t possible to work out how many units of alcohol will put you over the limit. That’s because it varies from person to person, depending on:3
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the drink driving alcohol limit for drivers is:4
The alcohol limit for drivers in Scotland has been stricter than the rest of the UK since 2014.
In Scotland the drink driving alcohol limit for drivers is:5
Even small amounts of alcohol can affect your ability to drive and there is no reliable way to drink and stay within the limit. The advice from the police is clear: avoid alcohol altogether if you plan to drive. If you need to have transport, try these top tips to enjoy an alcohol-free night out.
Have a designated driver. Choose a friend or family member who’ll go alcohol-free for the evening to drive you home safely – or be that person yourself.
Try alcohol-free drinks. There’s never been more choice available when it comes to alcohol-free beers, wine and mocktails. Choosing something non-alcoholic means you’ll be safe to drive.
If you go out regularly with the same group, you can take it turns. Even better, lots of pubs offer free or discounted soft drinks for the designated driver.
If you think you are going to drink, take a taxi or public transport. It’s a good idea to make sure you have the number or app saved in your phone, and enough battery to last the night.
The police are allowed to stop any vehicle at their discretion and can breathalyse you if they have reason to suspect you have been drinking. They often set up drink driving check points over periods such as Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
You could also be required to take a breathalyser test if you’ve committed a moving traffic offence (such as a banned turn or going through a red light) or been involved in an accident.
To investigate whether you are over the drink drive limit, police will carry out a screening breath test at the roadside, using a breathalyser.
If you fail this test, or if they have other grounds to believe that your driving was impaired due to alcohol, 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 it is needed, the police also have the power to require a sample of urine, or for a blood test to be carried out by a medical professional. Failure to provide a sample is a criminal offence.6
Being found guilty of driving while above the legal drink-driving alcohol limit will result in punishment that could affect the rest of your life.
If you are caught driving while above the legal limit, you will be banned from driving for a least a year and could also face six months in prison, and an unlimited fine.
Anyone found to have caused death by careless driving while under the influence of alcohol can be jailed for 14 years, as well as facing an unlimited fine, a minimum two-year driving ban and an extended driving test before being allowed to drive again.
Imprisonment, the period of disqualification, size of fine and penalty points depend on the seriousness of the offence.7
In addition to a criminal record you could also lose your job, face much higher car insurance costs in future, and find it harder to enter other countries, like the USA.
 Martin, T. L., Solbeck, P. A., Mayers, D. J., Langille, R. M., Buczek, Y., & Pelletier, M. R. (2013). A review of alcohol‐impaired driving: The role of blood alcohol concentration and complexity of the driving task. Journal of forensic sciences, 58(5), 1238-1250.
Last Reviewed: 28th October 2021
Next Review due: 28th October 2024