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Drink driving laws & consequences

Taking a taxi is an option instead of drinking and driving.

Many of us start the new year with the best intentions; we're going to do more exercise, eat healthier and be more sensible with money. While these good intentions don't tend to last longer than a few weeks, there is one thing that's becoming more popular every year; Dry January.

Created by Alcohol Concern to help people address their relationship with alcohol, Dry January simply means you don't drink alcohol for the whole of the month. The aim is to get you to start 'thinking about drinking' but you can also look forward to other benefits, such as getting a better night's sleep, having more energy and possibly even losing weight.

Drinking alcohol regularly doesn't just impact your health and finances; it impacts your driving too, as your ability to concentrate can be affected. Plus, most people aren't aware of the legal drink drive limits or that you can still be over the limit the following morning.

The stats

According to data from the Department for Transport (DfT), there were an estimated 5,730 drink drive accidents in the UK in 2015. Those accidents led to 200 deaths, with 1,370 people seriously injured and 8,470 slightly injured.

Compare the results to data from 1985, and the number of people killed or injured has dropped by a significant 70%. Still, many people would argue 200 drink drive related deaths in 2015 is 200 too many.

In the self-reported drive and drug driving survey conducted by the DfT, around 6.2% of drivers in 2014/15 admitted to driving while over the legal limit at least once in the past year. Of the total, 3.7% said they have done it 'once or twice'; shockingly, 1.6% of drivers said they had driven while drunk a couple of times a month or more.

The law

The legal drink drive limit in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is:

  • 35 micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath
  • 80 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood
  • 107 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of urine.

The rules are more stringent if you're driving in Scotland, with the limits as follows:

  • 22 micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath
  • 50 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood
  • 100 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of urine.

It's impossible to say how many drinks will push you over the limit, as tolerance levels vary from person to person. Factors such as your weight, age and sex will determine the way alcohol affects you, as well as things like your stress levels or what you've eaten recently.

The consequences

There are serious consequences if you're found guilty of drink driving. The penalty you receive will depend on the severity of your offence, and be decided by the court hearing your case. You could face:

  • A minimum 12 month driving ban
  • A criminal record
  • A fine of up to £5,000
  • Up to 6 months in prison
  • An endorsement on your licence for 11 years.

If you're banned from driving, you'll lose your independence and are likely to see a significant hike in future car insurance costs. You might have trouble getting into other countries (such as the USA) and you could end up losing your job.

None for the road

One 'innocent' drink down the pub or at a friend's house could be enough to push you over the limit. And even if you're sure you're within the limit, that drink will affect your concentration when you're behind the wheel, which is especially dangerous during winter when you find yourself battling adverse driving conditions.

One drink is enough to make you overconfident while driving and slow your reaction times. You may also find it more difficult judging things like distance and speed. And if you have two drinks, road safety group Think! explains it can double your chance of a fatal collision. The best thing you can do is not drink at all.

The morning after the night before

After a big night out, you might think it's alright to get behind the wheel, provided you've had a good kip. But this isn't the case.

Think! research uncovered around 5,500 people fail a breath test in the morning each year, equating to 15 per day. As the organisation explains, it takes around an hour for the body to break down one unit of alcohol, meaning it could take up to 12 hours for the alcohol of four pints of higher strength beer to leave your system.

"I didn't realise I was over the limit" won't work as an excuse if you're caught, and you'll still face the same consequences as a driver knowingly drunk driving. Eating a big brekkie or gulping a few pints of water may not sufficiently sober you up either; so if you've had a big night, it's best to make alternative travel arrangements.

Whether you're giving up alcohol for Dry January or not, it's clear there are huge benefits to reducing the amount of alcohol you consume. Staying sober doesn't mean you can't have any fun, it just means you get to remember a great night out the morning after and who knows; you might decide you want to make it a dry 2018.

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