Drink driving and the legal alcohol limit (2024)

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

How alcohol affects 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

Drinking affects your reaction times, your vision and your ability to concentrate, which means you can’t control the car as well.2And you’re more likely to engage in risk taking behaviour after drinking,3 which can mean your driving is more dangerous.

The law and drink drive limits in the UK

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

  • 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's the drink drive limit in England, Wales and Northern Ireland?

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the drink driving alcohol limit for drivers is:4

  • 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood (the ‘blood limit’)
  • 35 micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath (the ‘breath limit’)
  • 107 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of urine (the ‘urine limit’)

What's the drink drive limit in Scotland?

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

  • 50 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood (the ‘blood limit’)
  • 22 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath (the ‘breath limit’)
  • 67 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of urine (the ‘urine limit’)

How much can I drink and stay under the limit?

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.

Set yourself free

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.

Work together

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.

Plan ahead

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.

How would I be tested for drink driving?

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 drivingcheck 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 thedrink 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 thedrink drivinglimit.

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

What’s the punishment if I’m caught drink driving?

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.

More about the penalties for drink driving

Drink driving and the legal alcohol limit (1)

Further advice and information

Arming yourself with strategies and tips can help you or a loved one take small steps towards big results.

Can I drive the morning after drinking alcohol? Drink driving penalties How to report a drink driver Worried about someone else's drinking?

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Last Reviewed: 28th October 2021

Next Review due: 28th October 2024


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