DRINK driving is particularly common at Christmastime – and no less dangerous.
But how much is too much? Here's where UK law stands on what you can sip before getting behind the wheel.
Though it's impossible to know exactly how much alcohol you can handle before driving, it's definitely better to have none for the road.
That's for the safety of others and yourself, too – with the AA estimating there are up to 800,000 unlicensed drivers roaming Britain's roads.
If you are found guilty of drink driving you could face an increase in your car insurance premium, a fine, a driving ban or even a jail term.
What is the drink driving limit in the UK?
The drink drive limit differs in the UK depending on which country you're in.
There's one rule for motorists in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and another rule for drivers in Scotland.
The limits England, Wales and Northern Ireland are:
- 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood
- 35 microgrammes per 100 millilitres of breath
- 107 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of urine.
In Scotland, the limits are:
- 50 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood
- 22 microgrammes per 100 millilitres of breath
- 67 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of urine.
The drink driving limit in Scotland was reduced in 2014 and the stricter rules mean that just one drink could put you over.
You need to be careful with limits because alcohol affects people differently depending on your weight, age, sex, metabolism, what kind of alcohol you're drinking, what you've eaten and your stress levels.
Even if you're below the limit, having just one drink can still impair your driving skills.
In fact, with just 10mg of alcohol per 100ml of your blood (one-eighth of the limit in England and Wales), you are 37% more likely to be in a fatal accident than when completely sober.
If you're driving the day after a big night out be extremely careful, you could still have enough alcohol in your system to be over the limit.
How can alcohol affect driving?
Your ability to drive safely with alcohol in your system is impaired as:
- 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
- Blurred and double vision affects your ability to see things clearly while driving
- You are more likely to take potentially dangerous risks because you act on urges you normally repress
What can affect the drink driving limit?
There are several factors that can impact how much alcohol is absorbed into your blood, which can tip you over the limit.
These levels can be dependent on:
- 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
What is the penalty for drink driving?
If you cause a death while driving under the influence of alcohol, you face a jail term of up to 14 years.
Just being caught over the limit can land you a driving ban, a £2,500 fine and even a short prison term.
The actual penalty you get is up to the magistrates who hear your case and depends on your offence.
Here are the maximum penalties handed out to drink drivers:
- Being in charge of a vehicle while above the legal limit or unfit through drink: 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: six months' imprisonment, an unlimited fine and a driving ban for at least one year (three years if you have been convicted twice in 10 years)
- Refusing to provide a specimen of breath, blood or urine for analysis: six months imprisonment, an unlimited fine and a driving ban for at least one year
- Causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink: 14 years imprisonment, an unlimited fine, a ban from driving for at least two years and an extended driving test before your licence is returned
Other problems include:
- A significant increase in the cost of car insurance
- If you drive for work, your employer will see your conviction on your licence
- You may have trouble travelling to countries like the USA
How many units of alcohol can you have before driving?
The legal drink driving limit cannot be safely converted into a certain number of units, as it depends on a number of factors such as sex, body mass and how quickly your body absorbs alcohol.
As a rule of thumb, two pints of regular-strength lager or two small glasses of wine would put you over the limit.
It takes around two hours for a pint to leave your system although stronger beers and ciders will take longer.
A large glass of wine (250ml) is still in the blood for four hours, while a single measure of a spirit takes just one hour.
You’ll need to add an hour for the alcohol to be absorbed into the system. So, if you have four pints and stop drinking at midnight, you’re not safe to drive until at least 9am.
If you have a bottle of wine, you should wait until 1pm the next day.
But this isn’t a catch-all rule, because there are so many variables around how your body processes alcohol, everyone has different limits.
The easiest way to make you’re safe behind the wheel and within the law is not to drink at all if you’re planning on driving.
You should also give yourself plenty of time the next day before setting off.
When was the first roadside breath test carried out?
The first roadside breath test was carried out 50 years ago, on October 8, 1967.
In the year the breathalyser was introduced there were 1,640 people killed in crashes attributed to alcohol, but publicans protested to then-Transport Minister Barbara Castle that the new law could put them out of business.
AA president Edmund King said: "The breathalyser sits alongside compulsory seat belts and the introduction of EuroNCAP crash testing as the three biggest road safety life-saving measures introduced in the last half-century.
"The breathalyser and subsequent campaigns saved thousands of lives and helped make drink driving socially unacceptable."
Which celebrities have been caught drink driving?
Troubled telly star Ant McPartlin was slapped with one of the UK's highest ever driving fines after injuring a four-year-old girl by smashing into her parents' car in Richmond, London.
He was stung for £86,000 after pleading guilty to being twice the drink driving limit at Wimbledon Magistrates Court.
Ex-England captain Wayne Rooney was arrested for drink driving – and later pleaded guilty to the offence.
Sky Sports presenter Kirsty Gallacher was banned from driving for two years in 2017 after admitting to driving over the limit.
And Liverpool ace Roberto Firmino was banned from driving for 12 months in February 2017 after being caught on the wrong side of the road and over the legal alcohol limit.
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