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What you need to know about drinking, drugs and driving laws

December 20, 2017

Every year around 3,000 people are seriously hurt or killed in accidents caused by drunk drivers. While awareness of the dangers of mixing alcohol and drugs with driving has increased in the last ten years, it’s still an all-too-common problem.

Many people are confused by the limits on what’s safe and what’s not. Despite what you may have heard at the pub around closing time, a strong coffee or cold shower won’t sober you up any quicker. Even getting some sleep won’t necessarily make you fit to drive. Knowing the legal limits, as well as understanding how alcohol affects you, is essential.

How does drinking alcohol affect driving?

Most adults have experienced how alcohol can boost your confidence while at the same time impairing physical and mental capabilities. This is what makes even a slightly tipsy driver so dangerous. How alert you are, how rapidly you react, and how quickly you accelerate are all compromised by the alcohol in your system. In the same way music and bad jokes can sound better after a few stiff drinks, the ability to hear clearly and see well are affected. Driving at night or on rural roads is a challenge to even a sober driver, and drunk driving in these circumstances can be fatal.

What are the legal limits for drinking and driving?

The legal restriction for men is up to four units of alcohol, and for women it’s three. However, these are only guidelines and best understood as the most extreme limit. One pint of beer or one small glass of wine are nearly 2.5 units each. Age, weight and metabolism also count toward how alcohol affects you, as can how much you’ve eaten that day and how much sleep you had the previous night.

In general, the best rule to follow is the simplest – never drink alcohol and drive.

Level of alcohol England, Wales and Northern Ireland Scotland
Micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath 35 22
Milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood 80 50
Milligrammes per 100 millilitres of urine 107 67

What does the law say about drunk driving?

Over half a million-breathalyser tests are conducted each year to catch drunk drivers before they cause accidents. If caught, driving under the influence (DUI) and driving while intoxicated (DWI) can result in very serious penalties. These are:

Being in charge of a vehicle while above the legal limit or unfit through drink

You may get:

  • 3 months’ imprisonment
  • up to £2,500 fine
  • a possible driving ban
Driving or attempting to drive while above the legal limit or unfit through drink

You may get:

  • 6 months’ imprisonment
  • an unlimited fine
  • a driving ban for at least 1 year (3 years if convicted twice in 10 years)
Refusing to provide a specimen of breath, blood or urine for analysis

You may get:

  • 6 months’ imprisonment
  • an unlimited fine
  • a ban from driving for at least 1 year
Causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink

You may get:

  • 14 years’ imprisonment
  • an unlimited fine
  • a ban from driving for at least 2 yearsan extended driving test before your licence is returned

How does taking drugs affect driving?

Obviously, it’s against the law to drive in the UK if you have taken illegal drugs. Even if the drugs aren’t affecting your driving, having them in your system can get you in serious legal trouble. It is also illegal to drive if you are taking prescribed drugs that could impair your ability to drive. Ask a health professional’s advice if you’re unsure of how your medicine could affect your driving.

What are the laws around driving under the influence of drugs?

There are strict legal penalties for driving while impaired by drugs. As well as a criminal record, consequences can include:

  • A minimum one-year driving ban
  • An unlimited fine (the judge decides the amount)
  • Up to six months in prison
  • In the case of accidentally crashing or colliding with someone leading to a death, sentences can extend to 14 years
  • Significant increases in the cost of insurance
  • A permanent record that is made visible to employers
  • Difficulty travelling to countries outside of the UK, such as the USA.

Making the safe choice about drinking or taking drugs and driving is easy. Avoid situations where you have to drive after drinking, and always have a plan in place to get home safely when you do drink.

https://www.gov.uk/drink-drive-limit

https://www.gov.uk/drink-driving-penalties

https://www.gov.uk/drug-driving-law