Drink driving: Know the facts

As of Friday fortnight, a new drink-drive limit will come into force in Scotland, cutting the limit to 50mg per 100ml of blood down from the previous 80mg limit.

Just in time for the festive period, which is typically a high-risk time of the year for drink driving incidents, the new limit will bring Scotland into line with most countries in mainland Europe, who have the same 50mg limit.

However, the limit for the rest of the UK remains at the previous 80mg, and motoring groups as well as police have warned that drivers could get caught out and risk losing their licences.

As a result of the lowered limit, drivers who take one pint of beer or one glass of wine risk ending up on the wrong side of the law, with hefty fines, penalty points or even disqualification as a result.

Police have said an additional 35 drivers a week could lose their licences over the Christmas period once new alcohol limits came into force, and awareness campaigns with TV and radio adverts have gone out as of Monday.

To help you prepare and to avoid the worst, here’s the facts on drink driving.

Who is a drink driver?

A drink driver can be defined as any motorist who drives while drinking or having recently drunk alcohol.

According to surveys, a third of British drivers have admitted to driving after drinking any amount of alcohol in the past year, meaning that technically speaking, one in three motorists is a drink driver. Similarly, nearly one in five people have admitted to driving the morning after having a lot to drink, when they’re still likely to be over the limit.

Statistically speaking, certain types of drivers are more likely to be involved in drink-drive collisions: three quarters of drivers who fail breath tests are men and twice as many men as women admit to drink driving.

Young drivers are also statistically the most at risk, with motorists aged between 17 and 24 having the highest level of drink-drive crashes per distance driven.

What’s the damage?

An average of 3,000 people are killed or seriously injured on British roads each year as a result of collisions caused by drinking and driving.

Nearly one in six of all deaths on the road come as a result of drivers over the legal alcohol limit, while figures from 2004 showed that a total of 16,990 people were injured to some degree by a drink driver.

In the period of just a month last year, more than 6,500 drivers found to be over the legal limit were related arrested by police as part of the annual crackdown on drivers during the festive season.

What’s the law on drink driving?

It has been an offence to be drunk while in charge of carriages, horses, cattle, steam engines and motorcars since 1872, a full 27 years before the first fatal car accident occurred.

However, there was no formal cap on the amount of alcohol a driver was allowed to have in their body; so long as drivers weren’t obviously smashed, they could get away with it.

The Road Safety Act of 1967 was the first time in Britain that a legal maximum blood alcohol level was set, and it has remained at the same level ever since.

In the UK, the current alcohol limit for drivers is 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, 35 micrograms per 100ml of breath or 107mg for 100ml of urine.

In most continental European countries, the limit is 50mg per 100ml of blood, and the same will be true for Scotland as of December 5th.

How much can I drink?

There’s no fool proof way of drinking alcohol and staying under the limit. While rule of thumb states that drivers can get away with a pint of beer or a glass of wine, there are too many variables that change from person to person.

How much alcohol a driver has in their blood, breath or urine depends on factors which include weight, gender and metabolism. Other contributing factors include the type and amount of alcohol you drink, whether you’ve eaten lately and even stress levels can have an effect.

Even if you don’t feel drunk, the smallest amounts of alcohol can still impair drivers enough to lower their ability to drive safely, so it’s therefore highly advisable to avoid alcohol entirely when driving.

How does alcohol affect my driving?

To long-time motorists, driving can seem like second nature, but the actual act of driving safely requires an immense amount of attention and coordination on behalf of your body.

Unfortunately, the same effects that make a night on the town so enjoyable are also the same effects that can seriously impair your driving ability, even after just a little alcohol.

Drinking will decrease your brain’s speed at receiving messages from the eye, meaning that even if you spot a hazard up ahead, by the time you realise it might already be too late. Processing information likewise becomes more difficult, and drink drivers tend to make worse decisions on the road.

Instructions to the body’s muscles are also delayed, which results in slower reaction times, while concentration and the ability to understand sensory information is considerably reduced, as is coordination and the ability to perform several tasks at once.

Finally, the sedative effect of alcohol can cause drivers to have blurred vision or to become tired and fall asleep at the wheel, which will almost certainly result in serious injury or even death.

How do you test for alcohol?

Most police, when suspecting that a driver is under the influence, will administer a breathalyser test then and there on the side of the road.

If drivers fail this test, or the police have other grounds to believe that the driver is impaired through the use of coordination tests, the driver will be arrested and taken to the police station.

At the station, drivers will then be required to provide two more breath specimens into a more accurate breathalyser known as an evidential breath testing instrument. The lower of the two readings is then used to decide whether or not the driver is over the limit.

If the evidential sample is up to 40 per cent over the limit, drivers have the right to request a blood or urine sample, though the police officer will be the one to decide which test is carried out. If any of the tests prove to be over the limit, the driver will then be charged accordingly.

Police also have the power to carry out a breathalyser test if drivers commit other traffic offences, are involved in accidents or have given reasonable grounds to believe that the driver is impaired.

Officers are also allowed to stop any vehicle at their discretion, and will often set up check points at key times of year such as Christmas and the New Year.

What happens if I get charged?

Any driver found over the legal limit will be banned for at least a year and fined up to £5,000. Between three and eleven penalty points will also be issued depending on the severity of the offence, and drivers also risk a prison sentence of up to six months.

Drivers caught drink driving more than once in a 10 year period will subsequently by disqualified from driving for a minimum of three years.

What about the morning after?

If you’ve been out drinking, you may still be affected by the consumption of alcohol the next day. Even if you feel okay, you may technically still be over the legal limit and will still be charged if caught.

It’s also important to remember that it’s impossible to rid your body of alcohol any faster than the natural rate. Showers and cups of coffee might be great ways to cheer up during a hangover, but won’t help you sober up any quicker.

The alcoholic content of drinks is measured in units, and a UK unit equates to eight grams or 10ml of pure alcohol. An average pint of lager contains 2.3 units, while a large glass of cider has 3.2 and a single shot measure of 40% spirits is around one unit.

You’ve probably heard people claim that they sober up quickly, though biologically this is probably false. Alcohol is one of the most predictable chemical reactions in the body, and alcohol tends to be removed from the body at the rate of one unit per hour.

Unfortunately, sobering up is also effected by the same idiosyncrasies that makes calculating how much to drink so difficult; if you’re thinking of counting units to try and work out the minimum time you need to sober up before driving, we wouldn’t recommend it.

How can I avoid drink driving?

We know it’s kinda obvious, but ultimately the best way to avoid drink driving problems altogether is to simply avoid drinking when you know you could have to drive later on.

Spoiling the fun for anyone isn’t on our priority lists in the slightest and we know that designated driver status isn’t always the best way to spend the night… But then, what if it was?

Perrys offer a full range of new and exciting cars in every price range, from the critically-acclaimed Ford Fiesta ST to the Mazda MX-5, Jaguar F-TYPE Coupe and many more. As a result, you might find yourself opting to be the designated driver every night, and you can help protect yourself and others over the oncoming Christmas period and beyond.

For the full range of new cars and vans that Perrys offer, check out our website or get in touch with your local dealership today!