Don’t drink and drive
If in doubt, leave the car at home or have a designated driver
Drivers are again being warned that a convivial tipple could see them end up behind bars this Christmas as the festive season fast approaches.
More than half a million drivers are stopped and breathalysed each year by the police, with more breath tests carried out in December than other months – and this year looks like being no different from last.
However, this increase in police activity is not without due cause. Estimates for 2014 show there were between 240 and 340 deaths from drink drive accidents in Great Britain.
This was up on 2013 when between 220 and 260 people were killed in accidents in where at least one driver was over the drink drive limit, around 14% of all deaths in reported road traffic accidents. At the same time, there were 1,100 seriously injured casualties in drink drive accidents.
Don’t get caught out by the night before
Many drivers do not realise that it can take longer for the effects of alcohol to wear off than they think. It is quite possible to finish drinking at midnight the night before, but still be over the legal alcohol limit driving to work the next day.
With the festivities upon us, most drivers quite sensibly don’t drive when they go to the office party, or to the pub for that Christmas drink. But what many don’t realise is just how long the effects of alcohol can remain in their bloodstream.
Almost 1 in 5 of the 90,000 drivers convicted of drink driving each year are on their way to, or at, work next day.
While many of these drivers probably felt fine to drive, it depends on a number of factors including metabolic rate, the amount of body fat that you have and the combination of drinks you consume as to how adversely affected you may be by alcohol.
What are the legal limits?
In England and Wales, the alcohol limit for drivers is 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, 35 microgrammes per 100 millilitres of breath or 107 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of urine. This is the highest in Europe.
At the end of last year, the alcohol limit for drivers in Scotland was reduced to 50 milligrams of alcohol in every 100 millilitres of blood and 22 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath.
The Scottish Government said they had changed the drink drive limit to bring Scotland in line with most other European countries, to save lives and make Scotland’s roads safer.
In most other European countries, the limit is lower, typically 50 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood or less.
Who are most likely to be affected?
The figures show that the profile of Britain’s illegal drink drivers has remained largely the same:
- Three quarters (74%) of those killed and seriously injured are male.
- More than three in ten (31%) drivers killed aged 25 to 39 are over the drink drive limit – the highest of any age group.
- A quarter of drink drive deaths and serious injuries result from crashes where a young driver (17-24 years old) was over the limit.
Why is alcohol such a problem?
Many of the functions that we depend on to drive safely are affected when we drink alcohol:
- the brain takes longer to receive messages from the eye
- processing information becomes more difficult
- instructions to the body’s muscles are delayed resulting in slower reaction times.
You can also experience blurred and double vision, which affects your ability to see things clearly while you are driving. And you’re more likely to take potentially dangerous risks because you can act on urges you normally repress .
People who drive at twice the current legal alcohol level are at least 50 times more likely to be involved in a fatal car crash.
What are the penalties?
Anyone caught over the legal alcohol limit when driving will be banned from driving for at least 12 months, fined up to £5,000 and receive between three and 11 penalty points.
They could also be sent to prison for up to six months. All these factors – the length of imprisonment, period of disqualification, size of fine and penalty points depend on the severity of the offence.
An endorsement for a drink-driving offence remains on a driving licence for 11 years, so it is 11 years before a convicted driver will have a “clean” licence again.
And being in charge of a vehicle whilst over the legal limit or unfit through drink could result in three months’ imprisonment plus a fine of up to £2,500 and a driving ban.
The penalty for refusing to provide a specimen of breath, blood or urine for analysis is a maximum of six months’ imprisonment, a fine of up to £5,000 and a driving ban of at least 12 months.
Driving or attempting to drive whilst above the legal limit or unfit through drink carries a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment, a fine of up to £5,000 and a minimum of a 12 month driving ban.
If the worst should happen, causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison, a minimum two year driving ban and a requirement to pass an extended driving test before the offender is able to drive legally again.
If you’re caught drink driving more than once in a 10 year period, you’ll be banned for at least three years.
What action should you take?
Campaigners say that Britain is still failing to adequately tackle its drink drive problem, and that the number of drivers killed remains far too high.
So what advice can you follow to prevent the worst from happening?
- If you are going out for the evening with friends, arrange within your group who is going to be the designated driver. This person should abstain from alcohol for the night out so they can drive the rest of the group home safely.
- If you live near to good public transport links, take advantage of them. If you’re planning on staying out beyond the last train, tube or bus, make sure you have the phone number for a local taxi firm.
- If you have no option but to drive, stick to zero alcohol beers, soft drinks or fruit-based ‘mocktails’.