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Drink driving limits and laws in the UK

Drink driving limits and laws in the UK

Despite hard-hitting campaigns and tougher UK laws, over 70,000 people are still caught drink driving every year.

If you’re not sure what the drink driving limits and penalties are, or even if a conviction could affect your car insurance, then here’s our guide to what you need to know about drink driving and UK laws. 

Daniel Hutson
From the Motor team
minute read
posted 15 JANUARY 2020

How drink driving takes its toll

The latest figures from the Department for Transport show that 240 people were killed in accidents in Britain in 2016 where at least one driver was over the drink-drive limit. In total, there were an estimated 9,050 casualties in drink-drive accidents in the UK; the highest number since 2012.

While the only safe advice would be to avoid alcohol altogether when you get behind the wheel, it’s also important to know what the laws are. So, let’s take a look at some of the facts around drinking and driving. 

Drink driving limits in the UK

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the alcohol limit if you’re driving is:

  • 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood in your body
  • 35 micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath
  • 107 milligrams per 100 millilitres of urine

In Scotland and most other European countries the legal limit is lower:

  • 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood in your body
  • 22 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath
  • 67 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine

How your body absorbs alcohol can depend on:

  • your sex, age, weight and metabolism
  • the type of alcohol you’re drinking
  • whether you’ve eaten or are drinking on an empty stomach
  • your stress levels at the time

Even small amounts can affect the way your body reacts to alcohol and your ability to drive safely. So even if you’re under the limit you may not be safe to drive.

Penalties for drink driving in the UK

Here are just some of the possible consequences you could face if you’re caught driving over the legal alcohol limit:

  • up to six months in prison
  • an unlimited fine
  • a driving ban for at least 12 months, or three years if you’ve been convicted twice in 10 years
  • a court referral to take a drink-drive rehabilitation course

If you cause death by driving under the influence of alcohol, you could face:

  • 14 years in prison
  • an unlimited fine
  • a driving ban for at least two years
  • an extended driving test before you can get your driving licence back

Other possible consequences of a drink driving conviction include:

  • a DR10 endorsement that will remain on your licence for 11 years
  • significantly higher insurance premiums
  • losing your job if it involves driving
  • difficulty getting a visa to visit certain countries, such as the USA

Drink driving rehabilitation courses

If your ban is for 12 months or more, the sentencing court may offer you the opportunity to take a drink driving rehabilitation course.

These courses are designed to educate and advise people convicted of drink driving, and stop them reoffending.  

It’s your decision whether to accept the offer of a course. But completing a course successfully may reduce your driving ban by 25%. You’ll also be issued a certificate which may help you when it comes to finding an insurance provider.  

You must pay for the cost of the course, which is typically between £100 and £250. Courses are classroom based and usually last 16 hours (three days spread over three weeks).

How a drink driving conviction can affect your car insurance

A drink driving conviction (DR10 penalty) is likely to result in a significant increase in the cost of your car insurance premium. You may also have to pay a higher voluntary excess. Some insurance providers may even refuse to insure you. 

In fact, any criminal conviction, whether related to driving or not, can make insurance more expensive or difficult to find. 

If you agree to take a drink-drive rehabilitation course, this could work in your favour as some insurance providers may see it as a positive thing.  

Even with a drink driving conviction, you still may be able to reduce your car insurance costs. Check out our top tips for cheap car insurance for ways to lower your premium.

How can I find car insurance for drink drivers?

It’s difficult, but not impossible. You can start by comparing car insurance quotes with us.  

Just give us details about you, your car and any convictions you have. Policies may be restricted, or you may need to go a specialist insurance provider, but at least you’ll be able to see what’s available and what options you have. 

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