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All You Need To Know About Alcohol, Drugs and Driving Laws

Every year 3,000 people are seriously hurt or killed in accidents caused by drunk drivers, and drug driving is the cause of one in twenty fatalities on our roads, with incidents from 2020 to 2021 increasing 110% to 10,580.

Despite what your friends say or what you’ve heard at the pub come closing time, strong coffee or a cold shower won’t help sober you up any quicker. Even getting some sleep won’t necessarily make you fit enough to drive. Knowing the legal limits and 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 your 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 is affected. Driving at night or on rural roads is a challenge for even a sober driver; 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 are best considered 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.

The best rule to follow is the simplest – never drink alcohol and drive.

Level of alcoholEngland, Wales and Northern IrelandScotland
Micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath3522
Milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood8050
Milligrammes per 100 millilitres of urine10767

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 severe penalties. These are:

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

You may get:

  • Three 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:

  • Six months’ imprisonment
  • An unlimited fine
  • A driving ban for at least one year (three years if convicted twice in 10 years)

Refusing to provide a specimen of breath, blood or urine for analysis

You may get:

  • Six months’ imprisonment
  • An unlimited fine
  • A ban from driving for at least one year

Causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink

You may get:

  • life imprisonment
  • an unlimited fine
  • a ban from driving for at least 5 years
  • an extended driving test before your licence is returned

How does taking drugs affect driving?

It’s against the law to drive in the UK if you have taken illegal drugs. So even if the drugs aren’t affecting your driving, having them in your system can get you in serious legal trouble.

It’s also illegal to drive if you take prescribed drugs that could impair your ability to drive. Ask a health professional’s advice if you’re unsure 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
  • The maximum penalty for causing death by careless driving under the influence of drugs is life imprisonment.
  • 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 to get home safely when you do choose to drink.

The safest thing for yourself and others on the road is not drinking or using illegal substances.

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