What You Need to Know About Drinking, Drugs, and Driving Laws

Every year around 3,000 people are seriously hurt or killed in accidents caused by drunk drivers. While awareness of the dangers of mixing alcohol and drugs with driving has increased in the last ten years, it’s still an all-too-common problem.

Many people are confused by the limits on what’s safe and what’s not. Despite what you may have heard at the pub around closing time, a strong coffee or cold shower won’t sober you up any quicker. Even getting some sleep won’t necessarily make you fit to drive. Knowing the legal limits, as well as understanding how alcohol affects you, is essential.

How does drinking alcohol affect driving?

Most adults have experienced how alcohol can boost your confidence while at the same time impairing physical and mental capabilities. This is what makes even a slightly tipsy driver so dangerous. How alert you are, how rapidly you react, and how quickly you accelerate are all compromised by the alcohol in your system. In the same way music and bad jokes can sound better after a few stiff drinks, the ability to hear clearly and see well are affected. Driving at night, or on rural roads, is a challenge to even a sober driver, and drunk driving in these circumstances can be fatal.

What are the legal limits for drinking and driving?

The legal restriction for men is up to four units of alcohol, and for women it’s three. However these are only guidelines and best understood as the most extreme limit. One pint of beer or one small glass of wine are nearly 2.5 units each. Age, weight, and metabolism also count toward in how alcohol affects you, as can how much you’ve eaten that day, and how much sleep you got the previous night. 

In general, the best rule to follow is the simplest – never drink alcohol and drive.

What does the law say about drunk driving?

Over half a million breathalyser tests are conducted a year to catch drunk drivers before they cause accidents. If caught, driving under influence (DUI) and driving while intoxicated (DWI) can result in very serious penalties.
  • Driving bans of at least 12 months
  • Fines up to £5000
  • Prison terms of up to six months.
  • If a driver is found DUI more than once in 10 years they will be banned from driving for a minimum of three years

How does taking drugs affect driving?

Obviously, it is against the law to drive in the UK if you have taken illegal drugs. Even if the drugs aren’t affecting your driving, having them in your system can get you in serious legal trouble. It is also illegal to drive if you are taking prescribed drugs that could impair your ability to drive. Ask a health professional’s advice if you’re unsure of how your medicine could affect your driving.

What are the laws around driving under the influence of drugs?

There are strict legal penalties for driving while impaired by drugs. As well as a criminal record, consequences can include:
-	A minimum one year driving ban 
-	An unlimited fine (the judge decides the amount)
-	Up to six months in prison 
-	In the case of accidentally crashing or colliding with someone leading to a death, sentences can extend to fourteen years 
-	Massive increases in the cost of insurance
-	A permanent record that is made visible to employers
-	Difficulty travelling to countries outside of the UK, like the USA 
Making the safe choice about drinking or taking drugs and driving is easy. Avoid situations where you have to drive after drinking, and always have a plan in place to get home safely when you do drink.