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Drink-driving: What you need to know

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So, you're in the pub on a Saturday evening and thinking - can I have that third pint and still be okay to drive? Let's be clear: If you're drinking, don't drive. If you're driving, don't drink. And if you're unsure, don't drive.

But to give you all the facts, here's what you need to know about drinking and driving.

It's difficult to say exactly how many drinks you can have and still be okay to drive. This is because it's different for each person and depends on:

  • Your weight
  • Your age
  • Your assigned sex at birth
  • Your metabolism
  • Any medications you've taken
  • How much you’ve eaten
  • You stress levels
  • The strength and type of alcohol you're drinking

Let's look at some examples based on the drink-drive limit for England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the average UK weight for men and women**:

  • Men: 85kg
  • Women: 72kg

Source: NHS data

How many pints can I have and drive?

Assuming it's a medium-strength lager or cider of 4.5%**:

  • Men can have 2 pints and be under the drink-drive limit
  • Women can have 1 pint and be under the drink-drive limit

How many glasses of wine can I have and drive?

Assuming an average strength of 13%**:

  • Men can have 2 standard glasses of wine (175ml) and be under the drink-drive limit
  • Women can have 1 standard glass of wine and be under the drink-drive limit

How many shots can I have and drive?

Assuming an average strength of 40%**:

  • Men can have 4 single shots (35ml) and be under the drink-drive limit
  • Women can have 3 single shots (35ml) and be under the 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

This depends on how fast your body breaks down alcohol, which is based on your weight and assigned sex at birth. Using our drink driving calculator as a rough estimate:

A man who weighs 85kg 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 7am the following morning.

But having an extra pint means they need to wait until at least 9:30am the following day before getting 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. It's a quick and easy way to let you know if you’re over the limit.

How long does alcohol stay in your system?

According to the NHS, it takes around an hour for your liver to process 1 unit of alcohol. That's the equivalent of 1 shot. Standard measures of beer and wine are around 2-2.5 units, so it takes your body twice as long to remove the alcohol from your system.

Even though you might feel fine, alcohol can stay in your blood for up to 6 hours after your last drink, and on your breath for up to 24 hours.

There are plenty of ways for you to get home after a few drinks:

  • Public transport and taxis
  • Designated drivers
  • Get a temporary car insurance policy for a sober friend
  • Scooterman (London only)

Temporary car insurance is one option. You can insure a sober friend or family member to drive you and your car home. You can get cover instantly and can set it to cover someone from 1 hour to 28 days.

The temporary policy cancels when the cover ends, so you’re not committing to a long-term policy either.

If you live in London, 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 you don't have to worry about adding them to your car insurance policy.

The punishment for driving under the influence is severe.

You could be banned from driving for a minimum of 12 months. And 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 have to pay a fine of at least £2,500.

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.

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 aren't entitled to any payout from your insurer. And any other costs involved - for example, 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 even refuse to cover convicted drivers.

Our data shows that the average policy cost with a DR40 conviction (in charge of a vehicle while alcohol level above limit) is £1,425*.

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.

What our motor insurance expert says

"Let's keep this simple. If you're drinking, don't drive. And if you're driving, don't drink. Make sure you arrange another way to get home, either by insuring a sober friend to drive your car or using public transport. And if you're not certain that you're sober, don't risk it.

"If you've had a few drinks, don't just assume that you can sleep it off and be okay to drive the next morning. You could still have alcohol in your system, which puts you and others at risk. And if the police pull you over, you face points on your licence and expensive car insurance costs for the next few years."

Compare temporary car insurance quotes

* Confused.com data. July 2022 - June 2023. Comprehensive policies only

** Source: Drinkaware

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