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Drink driving - what you need to know

Alcoholic drinksHave you ever said you’re dying for a drink? It’s a harmless phrase, but every year hundreds of people literally do just that – thanks to drunk drivers. In 2008, nearly 400 people were killed as a result of drink-driving, and another 11,000 were injured. One in all six deaths on the road involve drivers over the legal limit, and the biggest offenders are young men between 17 and 29 years old.

Yet plenty of sensible, law-abiding people step behind the wheel of their car after having a glass or two, crossing their fingers and hoping they are still under the limit. Get it wrong, and you could pay a hefty penalty, in terms of a fine, a ban or even a jail sentence – not to mention difficulty in getting car insurance when you are able to drive again. can help you get insurance after a drink-driving ban – but the cost of cover will inevitably be much higher.

So what are the rules?

Know your alcohol limits

Here’s the science bit. You are over the drink drive limit if you have 80 milligrams of alcohol in your body for every 100 millilitres of blood. That means 0.08 per cent of your blood is alcohol. You’re also over the limit if you have 35mg of alcohol per 100ml of breath.

That isn’t much help if you’re standing at the bar wondering whether you can have a cheeky half pint or small glass of wine for the road. So what does it mean in practice?

As a general rule, two pints of regular strength beer or lager will just tip you over the drink-drive limit, as will two small glasses of wine. The problem is that everybody is different, and your weight, sex, how much you’ve eaten and your metabolism will all determine whether you can legally drive.

Try our alcohol units calculator to work out what drinks are likely to push you over the limit.

Assess your alcohol levels before driving

One or two pubs keep breathalyser kits behind the bar, which should give you a much more accurate measure of whether you are safe to drive, or you can even buy your own. The cheapest cost less than a tenner. They might also be handy to check whether you are still over the limit the following morning - plenty of people lose their licence following a session the night before.

That doesn’t mean you should drink right up to the limit then hop into your car. A single alcoholic drink triples your risk of dying in a vehicle crash, according to recent research, by reducing your reaction times and motor skills. Once you have hit the legal drinking limit, the risk rises eight times. The most sensible way to drive is alcohol-free.

Get home safely

You can take turns with your mates to stay sober, take the bus or train, or order a taxi. You’ll feel a lot less guilty and enjoy yourself more as well. If you’ve had a few too many and are wondering how to get home, check whether there is a Scooterman in your area, a personal chauffeur who will drive your car home with his scooter sealed in a bag in your boot. There are plenty of other services, such as, especially in bigger cities.

The consequences of drink-driving

The punishment for drink-driving is severe. You’ll be banned from driving for a minimum of 12 months, or three years if you have a drink-driving conviction in the past 10 years. You could even spend up to six months in prison, or have to scrub graffiti or pick up litter as part of a community order. The maximum fine is £5,000. You might also lose your job, and had better hope that somebody is happy to ferry you around if you can’t drive yourself. Even when you can drive again, you will have to pay a lot more for your car insurance for many years to come.

British drink-driving laws are among the most liberal in Europe, but they may get tougher in future. The government has been considering cutting the legal drinking limit to 50mg per 100ml of blood. Deaths from drink-driving deaths in the UK recently hit their lowest recorded level, down to one-quarter of the 1,640 killed in 1979. But it still kills 380 people every year.

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