Concerning Increase in UK Drink Driving Deaths

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Drink driving deaths in 2017 were at the highest level in almost a decade

In a worrying and unexpected development, statistics recently published by the Department for Transport (DfT) show that there were 270 deaths in car crashes, or road traffic accidents, where at least one of the drivers involved were over the legal alcohol limit. And worse still, there is a fear that the statistics for that year may be followed with even worse findings in the coming years.

The Legal Limit

The legal alcohol limit for drivers in Wales and England is 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. It can also be measured as 107 mg per 100 ml of urine, or 35 micrograms per 100 ml of breath.

This is actually the highest legal limit in the whole of Europe. However, if you are in Scotland, the limit is lower, matching most of the other countries in Europe, at 50 mg of alcohol in every 100 ml of blood. You can read our Drink Driving Guide for more information.

The Numbers

The figure of 270 deaths involving alcohol was 20 higher than the prior year. It was also the highest that it had been since 2009, coincidently when the number of police officers in Wales and England was at its peak.

If the statistics were not concerning enough, it seems that drivers are not just failing the drink-drive limit marginally, it was revealed that 41 per cent of those failing breath tests were more than double the legal drink-drive limit.

Whilst drink related road deaths had increased, accidents whereby at least one driver was over the limit, saw a six percent drop, with 5,700 incidents in 2017. There was also a five per cent reduction in terms of the number of people (8,600) that suffered a serious injury because of a crash involving a drink driver.

The solutions for drink driving

With the bleakest of the drink driver trends showing an increase, there have been a number of calls from the motoring industry and the public to make changes.

Reversal of police cuts

There are a lot of people that blame the cuts in the police force for the increase in drink driving related deaths. In 2017, there were only 325,000 roadside breath tests carried out. This is significant because it is the lowest level since the data has been collected and it represents a 15 per cent decrease over previous years.

For those inclined to offend, there is an argument that being less likely to get caught could encourage risk taking.

drink driving

Revision of legal alcohol limits

There are campaigners that believe our drink-drive limit is too lenient and that we should move to zero-tolerance.

Research shows that the “limit” does make a significant difference. It has been concluded that drivers are 13 times more likely to be involved in a fatal incident if they are at the English limit, compared to being sober. Moreover, drivers are five times more likely to be in a fatal incident when at the English limit when compared with the drink-drive limit in Scotland.

The director of campaigns at Brake, the road safety charity, has also expressed his concerns regarding the current legal drink-drive limit in the United Kingdom. Joshua Harris has stated that the current limit gives people the idea that drinking is safe before driving. He said it is a dangerous message that creates a false impression. It is an impression that could not be further from the truth when there is research that states that safe driving can be impacted dramatically even by small amounts of alcohol. A zero-tolerance limit needs to be implemented according to Harris.


In car technology could be part of the answer too. The UK could take inspiration from France where alcolocks are used with known offenders whereby the driver needs to blow into a breathalyser before the vehicle’s engine will start.

At present, proposals are being deliberated that new cars should have this technology fitted if built after May 2020.

Currently, UK drivers taking their vehicles to France are required to have disposable breathalysers in their cars, but there is an argument that if these were required in the UK too, drivers could test themselves if they weren’t sure.

And in the UK, it is also possible to buy an electronic, reusable breathalyser for a relatively small outlay (circa £20). For those that want to take responsibility for their own actions, investing in a device could save a lot of heartbreak later. The best time to use these kinds of device is the morning after a night spent drinking, when drivers might still be over the limit and not appreciate it.

For Fleets

For companies running fleets of vehicles, having a fleet policy that is very prescriptive when it comes to drink driving, or the use other substances that cause driver impairment, is essential. If you would like some advice on constructing a suitable policy then get in touch. The guide below is also a useful resource.

Drink Driving Guide

And with Christmas just around the corner, when drinking and driving is more prevalent, there is perhaps no better time to revisit your policies, and advise your drivers of their responsibilities.

By |October 21st, 2019|Categories: Driving, Fleet|

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