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Tuesday, 2 October 2023

Drink driving: limits and penalties

It's illegal to drive if you're above the legal drink drive limit, and it is punishable by severe penalties. Find out what the limits are, how alcohol affects your driving and what happens if you're caught drink driving.

The drink drive legal limit

The legal alcohol limit for drivers in Great Britain is:

  • 35 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath
  • 80 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood
  • 107 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine

Any amount of alcohol affects your ability to drive

Even a single drink affects your driving performance. If you drive after drinking, you'll:

  • be less alert and careful, however slowly you drive
  • have trouble judging your speed
  • be slower to react to hazards and it will take you longer to stop

No safe way to calculate how to stay below limit

Never offer an alcoholic drink to someone who is going to drive

There’s no safe way to calculate how much alcohol you can drink and stay below the limit. The way alcohol affects you depends on:

  • your weight, age, sex and metabolism (the rate at which your body uses energy)
  • your stress levels at the time
  • what you have eaten recently
  • the type and amount of alcohol you’re drinking

The only way to stay safe is not to drink any alcohol if you’re driving.

What happens if you're caught driving above the limit

THINK! Don't drink and drive

Penalties for drink driving convictions are severe and long-lasting

You’ll be arrested and taken to a police station if you’re driving and:

  • you fail a roadside breath test
  • the police believe that you’re unfit to drive because you have been drinking

At the police station, you’ll be asked to give two breath specimens (samples) into an evidential breath-testing instrument. The police will use the lower of the two readings to decide whether you’re above the limit and have committed an offence.

If you’re charged with an offence, you may have your photograph, fingerprints and DNA taken. Then you’ll be either:

  • released on bail to attend court
  • held by the police - if they think you could commit another offence

The police won’t release you if they think you’ll drive away while still above the limit.

If your breath reading is no more than 50 microgrammes per 100 millilitres, you’ll be given the opportunity to provide a blood or urine sample. The police will decide which it will be. You'll be released on bail until the police have analysed the samples. If the results show you were the above the drink drive legal limit, you’ll be charged.

The penalties for driving above the drink drive legal limit

If you’re charged with a drink driving offence, you’ll be taken to court. If you’re found guilty, the following penalties will apply.

Drink driving offence Maximum penalty

Being in charge of a vehicle while above the legal limit or unfit through drink

  • 3 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

  • 6 months’ imprisonment
  • up to £5,000 fine
  • a ban from driving for at least one year (three years if convicted twice in ten years)

Refusing to provide a specimen of breath, blood or urine for analysis

  • 6 months’ imprisonment
  • up to £5,000 fine
  • a ban from driving 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
  • an extended driving test before your licence is returned

A conviction for drink driving also means:

  • the cost of your car insurance will increase significantly
  • if you drive for work, your employer will see your conviction when you have to produce your licence
  • you may have trouble getting permission to travel into countries like the USA

Rehabilitation courses for drink driving offenders

If you’re convicted of a drink driving offence, you may be offered a place on a rehabilitation course. The course teaches you more about the effects of alcohol on driving. You’ll have to pay for it and it’s up to you whether you attend.

If you successfully complete the course, the period for which you're banned from driving will be reduced by up to a quarter.

The High Risk Offenders Scheme

If you’re a ‘high risk offender’, your driving licence won’t be returned automatically at the end of your driving ban. You’ll be considered a high risk offender if you:

  • were convicted of two drink driving offences within ten years
  • drove when you were at two and half times or more the legal limit for alcohol
  • refused to give the police a sample of breath, blood or urine to test for alcohol

If you’re a high risk offender, you'll only get your licence back if you pass a medical examination by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.

See 'High risk offenders and driving' for more information.

Additional links

Your eyes will give you away

Find out how drugs impair your driving and how the police can spot drug drivers

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