In Britain, drinking and driving is illegal over a certain limit. The limit for England and Wales is the same but it is different in Scotland. Attempting to drink and drive is also illegal. Even if you are not over the alcohol limit, if you are “unfit through drink”, in other words, you are still drunk, you can still face the same penalties.
In Britain, alcohol levels can be measured in three ways: the amount of alcohol in your breath, in your blood, or in your urine.
Alcohol limits in England and Wales
In England and Wales, the upper limit for blood alcohol content (BAC) is:
- 35 micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath.
- 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood.
- 107 milligrams per 100 millilitres of urine.
Alcohol limits in Scotland
In Scotland, the upper limit for BAC is:
- 22 micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath.
- 50 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood.
- 67 milligrams per 100 millilitres of urine.
What does that mean?
How much alcohol ends up being detected in the tests the police use depends on a few things. How much you weigh, how old you are, and how well your metabolism works all change how much alcohol is in your blood after drinking. Whether you have eaten recently and how stressed you feel are also important factors.
In practical terms, the limit for England and Wales means that you will probably not be able to consume more than a pint of beer or a single shot of spirits without breaching the threshold in the next few hours.
In Scotland, even a single pint or shot can take you over the limit.
You can buy self-testing devices you can keep in your car to make sure you are within the safe and legal limits when you are driving. If you are travelling to Europe, some countries require you have a kit in your car at all times.
Any alcohol impairs your ability to drive
There is no safe limit for alcohol and driving. Even a small amount can significantly impair your reaction times and coordination, making you a danger to yourself and everyone else.
Your blood alcohol levels might still be over the limit even if you have slept since you last drank anything. This can vary from person to person, so make sure you get tested.
What is illegal on the roads
Driving or attempting to drive with an excess alcohol content to your blood is illegal. To be in charge of a motor vehicle with excess alcohol is also illegal. Even if you are not over the legal limit, if a police officer believes you to be unfit to drive through the use of alcohol you can find yourself before a magistrate.
When you are stopped by the police, it is an offence to refuse to be tested. You can, however, ask for another test to be carried out if you believe that the first test was erroneous. If you refuse a test, you are likely to be arrested and taken to a police station, where you will be required to provide a blood or urine sample. To refuse is an offense.
Drink driving penalties
In charge of a vehicle
In the UK, you can currently be fined up to £2,500, be sent to prison for up to three months, and face a driving ban if you are in charge of a car or any other vehicle while you’re over the legal limit or you are unfit through alcohol. This does not necessarily mean you were driving, just that you were in charge of the vehicle. Bikes and other forms of transport are included in this category.
Attempting to drive or driving a vehicle
If you have been caught driving or been caught attempting to drive while you are over the limit or you are unfit through drink, you could receive a six month prison sentence, an unlimited fine, and/or a ban of over 1 year. Repeat convictions increase the severity of the penalties.
The minimum penalty is a 12 month driving ban. It is mandatory, the magistrate will give you this as a minimum.
Refusing a sample
The penalties for refusing a blood, urine, or breath sample are up to 6 months in prison, an unlimited fine, and at least 1 year ban from driving. The police can stop any car/vehicle at their discretion. You will be breathalysed if you have been involved in an accident, have committed a driving offense, or have given any grounds to believe you are exceeding the BAC limit.
Causing death while under the influence of alcohol
If someone dies because of your actions in a vehicle while under the influence of drink, you can face up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine, at least a 2 year ban from driving, and extra tests before you can drive again.
The limits are low, the penalties are high
Taking a chance on the roads when you have had a drink is not worth it. You endanger people’s lives and your own. Drink drivers are one of the leading causes of road deaths in the UK, do not join their numbers.
A wide variety of alcohol-free drinks are available nearly everywhere. Bartenders will refuse you drink if they believe you are going to drive. If you are going out with your friends or family, make sure there is a designated driver who is not going to drink. Alternatively, call a taxi.
In Scotland, the BAC limit is so low that any alcohol consumption is likely to push you over the limit. In the rest of the UK, the limit is a bit higher, but even a pint of beer can make it illegal to drive.
There is no excuse for drink driving. It causes death and destruction on a scale that is hard to comprehend. Carry a breathalyser in your vehicle if you are certain you are going to drink but don’t rely on it to be 100% accurate. Do not drink if you are in Scotland and have to drive.
Further information on drink driving laws in the UK can be found on the UK government website.