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Drink-driving - what you need to know

Let’s start with the obvious: If you're driving, don't drink. If you're drinking, don't drive.

But some are still muddled about the specifics on how much they can drink and still be able to hop in the car. In the interest of clearing things up, here's what you need to know.

Bar staff stopping customer from drink driving


What's the UK drink-drive limit?

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you’re over the drink-drive limit if you have over:

  • 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood

  • 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100ml of breath

  • 107mg of alcohol per 100ml of urine

In Scotland, these limits are lower and more in line with other European countries:

  • 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood

  • 22 micrograms of alcohol per 100ml of breath

  • 67mg of alcohol per 100ml of urine


What’s this in real money?

As a general rule, 2 pints of regular-strength lager or 2 small glasses of wine could put you over the limit. This equates to roughly 4.5 units of alcohol.

For more information, check out our alcohol unit calculator.

But this isn’t a catch-all rule. Several factors contribute to how your body processes alcohol including:

  • Your weight
  • Your birth sex
  • Your metabolism
  • Any medications you've taken
  • How much you’ve eaten 

So, if you’re wondering if you can drive after 2 beers, the answer is – it depends on a whole load of factors. And if there’s even a shred of doubt about whether you’re fit to drive, err on the side of caution and don’t.


How long should I wait to drive after drinking?

Using our morning after calculator as a ballpark estimate:

A 13-stone biological male has 3 pints of 4% strength lager at 11pm. This would put them over the UK drink-drive limit. It would take roughly 8 hours for it to leave their system, so they might be okay by 7:30 the following morning.

But having an extra pint at 10pm means they need to wait until at least 9:45 the following morning before hopping in the car. If they're rushing to get to work and get pulled over by the police, they could still be over the drink-drive limit.

Though not a legal requirement in the UK, it’s a sensible idea to keep a breathalyser kit in your car. They’re  a quick and easy way to let you know if you’re over the limit.

Keep in mind that you still might not be safe to drive the morning after, either. You might feel fine, but there still might be enough alcohol in your system to put you over the limit.


Alternatives to driving after having a drink

Luckily there are plenty of ways for you to get home after a few drinks.

As well as public transport, sober friends and taxis, there are services like Scooterman who drive you and your car home safely.

The chauffeur arrives in a foldable scooter that’s stored in your boot while they’re driving you home. They’re also insured to drive your car so everything is above board and you don't have to worry about adding them to your car insurance policy.

You might be tempted to kip in your car if you can't make it home. However, being drunk and in charge of a car is illegal, even if you aren't driving.


Drink driving penalties

The punishment for driving under the influence is severe.

You could be banned from driving for a minimum of 12 months. If you’re convicted twice in 10 years, this goes up to 3 years.

You could also be put in prison for up to 6 months, and be forced to pay a hefty fine.

If you're stopped by the police an refuse to provide a specimen for them, you could get:

  • A 6-month prison sentence
  • An unlimited fine
  • A driving ban

If you get a drink-driving conviction, it should be noted on your driving licence with a code starting with DR. This penalty stays on your licence for 11 years.

For more information, check out our guide on driving conviction offence codes


Can you be drunk in charge of a bicycle?

What if you decide to cycle home after a night at the pub? What if you’re riding in a roadworthy mobility scooter?

The legislation for drink-driving applies to all ‘mechanically-propelled vehicles’ eg cars, motorbikes and vans.

However, bicycles aren’t mechanically propelled, and mobility scooters are classed as ‘invalid carriages’.

Neither require a driving licence, car tax or car insurance to use, and neither come under the same legislation that applies to cars.

While the strict laws around drink-driving don’t apply to cyclists, it’s still an offence to ride a bicycle ‘while unfit to ride through drink or drugs’ and comes with a fine of £1,000.  But the police are unable to demand a breath, blood or urine sample from cyclists.

As for mobility scooters, you’re required to follow the Highway Code when driving one on the road.

This means that drink-driving laws apply to you the same as a car driver.

For reference, Highway Code Rule 95 outlines how alcohol impacts your ability to drive, and that you shouldn’t drink and drive.


How does drink driving affect my car insurance?

If you’re in an accident while driving over the limit or unfit to drive through drink or drugs, your cover might be invalid. Most car insurance companies have a clause stating this.

This means that you wouldn’t be entitled to any payout from your insurer. And any other costs involved - eg a damage claim from another driver - would likely be your responsibility.

Having a drink-driving conviction might also mean you’re likely to see a sizable increase in your insurance prices. Some insurers might refuse to cover convicted drivers.

If you’re a passenger in a car with a drink-driver and you’re involved in an accident, any compensation you might be entitled to could be reduced.

This counts as 'contributory negligence'. By getting in the car with someone who’s unfit to drive, you’ve contributed to your own injuries in a similar way to being in the car without a seatbelt.

There’s quite a lot of legislation and policy rulings around drink-driving, so let’s keep this simple:

If you’re driving, don’t drink. If you’re drinking, don’t drive.

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