Number of drivers blowing positive for booze after an accident drops 42% in 10 years

Fewer motorists are risking drink-driving, as the breathalyser marks 50th anniversary

Posted on 13 Oct 2017

Only 3,424 people failed a breathalyser test following an accident in 2016 – compared to 5,873 in 20061.
Number of drink-driving related accidents up until the end of 2015 drops by 71% since detailed reporting started in 19792.
More motorists (35%) admitted to being caught drink-driving on rural roads than any other road type3.
Drivers are most likely to be pulled over and breath tested during rush hour (5pm-6pm) on a Tuesday, while Sunday sees the most breathalyser failures5.

Thousands of lives have been saved since the introduction of the breathalyser – which celebrates its 50th anniversary this October. And it seems the tool has certainly done its job in improving the safety on UK roads.

New research by, the driver saving site, reveals just 3,424 people failed a breathalyser test following an accident in 2016 – a 42% decrease over the course of a decade, down from 5,873 in 20061. And it seems this dip in the number of motorists blowing positive for booze correlates with fewer drink-driving related accidents over the years, too. The breathalyser was introduced as a tool for measuring blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in drivers in October 1967 and, since drink-driving accidents started being recorded in 1979, the number of incidents has dropped by 71%2.

Further research by also found that more than a quarter (26%) of motorists have been breathalysed at some point in their life by police, with more than an eighth (13%) of these failing the test. But it seems drink-drivers are prevalent on some types of roads more than others.

The majority of offenders (35%) have been caught over the limit while driving on a rural road – typically darker, narrower and more hazardous roads, compared to motorways or dual carriageways. As experienced by James Corden in’s new TV advert, rural roads are subject to various obstacles, including herds of stubborn sheep, flooding and lower light levels. And with the added hazard of drink-drivers, it’s unsurprising more than a third (37%) of motorists think rural roads are the most dangerous4.

The time of day drivers are most likely to be breathalysed may also come as a shock. In fact more drivers were pulled over between 5pm and 6pm on a Tuesday evening in 2016 than any other time during the week. However, it’s perhaps less surprising that drivers are seemingly most likely to fail a breath test on their way home from a night out. The most common time to fail a breathalyser test is between midnight and 1am on a Sunday, with Sunday seeing the most number of failed tests altogether5.

Drink-driving now carries several, strict punishments, including a driving ban or imprisonment6. The majority of drivers who have fallen foul of the law have been landed with a fine, with nearly two thirds (63%) of motorists on the receiving end, setting them back a hefty £517 on average. More than a half (52%) of motorists caught drink-driving have also received a ban as a result, with more than two fifths (43%) also being served points on their licence. On a more extreme level, one in five (19%) drink-drivers have also faced time in prison.

And with some motorists clearly still willing to take the risk, it’s no wonder police are still making use of this helpful breathalyser tool. More than a half (55%) of motorists play it safe and refuse to have a drink if they know they are driving, but nearly one in 10 (9%) say usually opt for a two and drive rule.

While some drivers are sensible enough to not drink before driving, it seems they don’t always necessarily leave it long enough in the morning before jumping behind the wheel. In fact, more than a fifth (43%) of drivers admit to driving the morning after a night of drinking, despite not feeling well or awake enough to get behind the wheel. Last year, 386 (11%) drivers who failed breathalyser tests did so between the hours of 6am and 11am5, which goes to show a night of sleep might not necessarily do the trick. And drivers aren’t short of excuses for this either, with nearly more than a fifth (42%) saying they did it because they didn’t have far to drive. One in seven (14%) also took the risk because they knew there wouldn’t be many cars on the road.

In England and Wales, the legal alcohol limit for drivers is 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood, or 35 mg per 100 ml of breath7. Scotland has slightly lower levels of 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood, and 22 mg per 100 ml of breath6. But it is very hard for people to comprehend how this equates into how much they are drinking, or the best drinks to have. However, alcohol tolerance very much depends on a person’s weight, age, sex and metabolism. Stress levels can also affect the way a body reacts to alcohol which is also very difficult to judge, and why motorists should always avoid alcohol altogether before getting behind the wheel.

Amanda Stretton, motoring editor at, says, “It is really encouraging to see the number of people failing breathalyser tests reducing by almost half in a decade, which has seemingly had a really positive effect on the safety of our roads. 

“But while the number of drink-driving related accidents has significantly dropped in the last 40 years, some people are still taking the risk – especially on rural roads. A drink-driving prosecution could force drivers to not only fork out for a fine, but could also ramp up their car insurance premiums. Drivers faced with rising premiums should shop around online using sites such as to find and compare the cheapest deals for them.”


Notes to editors

1. – table RAS51002
3. Unless otherwise stats, all figures taken from omnibus research carried out by One Poll on behalf of This was an online poll of 2,000 UK adults who drive (nationally representative sample). The research was conducted between 3rd October and 5th October 2017.
4. Figure taken from omnibus research carried out by One Poll on behalf of This was an online poll of 2,000 UK adults who driver (nationally representative sample). This research was conducted between 2nd October and 5th October 2017.
5. – RAS51003

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