Drink driving

Learn more about the laws and the car insurance implications of driving under the influence of alcohol, including the legal limit and fixed penalties.

goco author
Updated 07 November 2022  | 6 mins read

Key points

  • It's against the law to drive above the legal blood alcohol level
  • Breaking drink-driving laws can have extremely serious consequences, including imprisonment, driving bans, and unlimited fines
  • Alcohol takes longer than we might think to leave the system
  • If in doubt, do not get behind the wheel of a vehicle

Drink-driving describes the act of taking control of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol above the legal limit. 

Drinking alcohol affects you in a number of ways, including your reaction times, your vision and your ability to concentrate, and this means driving under the influence of alcohol is dangerous to yourself and others.*

What is the legal alcohol limit for drivers?

The UK has strict laws around drink-driving, and rules differ between the UK nations. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the legal alcohol limit for drivers is**:

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

While in Scotland, the legal alcohol limit for drivers is**:

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

There is no reliable way to drink alcohol and stay within these limits. Therefore, police advice is to avoid alcohol altogether if you plan to drive – whether a short or long journey.

Alcohol takes longer to leave your system than you may think, and you may still be over the limit the next day after drinking the night before. Alcohol can remain in your blood for six hours and on your breath for up to 24 hours.***

How is drink-driving tested?

Roadside testing is used to establish whether you are above the legal alcohol limit, using a device known as a ‘breathalyser’. The police are authorised to stop any vehicle at their discretion and breathalyse the driver. You may be required to take a breathalyser test if you are suspected of drink-driving, or if you have performed a traffic offense, such as driving through a red light or overtaking in an inappropriate place.

If the roadside breathalyser test is failed, or there are other grounds to suspect you are impaired by alcohol, you will be taken to a police station for further testing.

As well as testing your breath, the police also have the power to request a urine sample or a blood test to be carried out.

What is the penalty for drink-driving?

There are serious penalties for drink-driving. Depending on the severity of the offence, you could serve time in jail, receive a driving ban, and face a fine.

For the worst drink-driving offences, the magistrates court can issue****:

  • Up to six months imprisonment
  • A driving ban for at least one year (or three years for a second conviction over ten years)
  • An unlimited fine

Never drink and drive

The penalties for drink-driving can be issued whether you are in charge of a vehicle, driving, or attempting to drive while over the legal limit. Additionally, refusing to provide a breath, blood or urine specimen for analysis is a chargeable offense, too.

"Drink-driving is taken very seriously in the UK, and for good reason,” said Go.Compare’s Ryan Fulthorpe.

Motorists who drink and drive face severe problems – and not only in terms of the legal penalties. A conviction for drink-driving is also likely to affect you in other ways, for instance by causing a significant increase to your car insurance premium.
Ryan Fulthorpe - GoCompare Motoring Expert

"Drink-drivers pose a risk not only to themselves but also to other drivers and passengers – and this is why the implications of drink-driving are so severe.

"A drink-driving conviction will affect your life in a number of ways. You could face a large fine, jail time and a driving ban, and your conviction will be visible to any future employers – which could affect your career. Additionally, travel to certain countries – such as the US – can be harder if you have a drink-driving conviction on your record.

"Alcohol affects everyone differently. There are many factors at play, such as height, gender, age, body weight, the medication you are on, and even what you have eaten recently. Therefore, it’s never wise to try and guess how much alcohol you can safely drink before driving. Steering clear of alcohol altogether if you plan on driving is much safer.

“Ultimately, there is no reason and no justification for drink-driving. If you have consumed alcohol and there is any chance you could be over the legal limit, do not get behind the wheel.”


* Martin, T. L., Solbeck, P. A., Mayers, D. J., Langille, R. M., Buczek, Y., & Pelletier, M. R. (2013). A review of alcohol‐impaired driving: The role of blood alcohol concentration and complexity of the driving task. Journal of forensic sciences, 58(5), 1238-1250.

**GOV.UK website: https://www.gov.uk/drink-drive-limit (accessed 28/10/2022)

**** https://www.drinkdriving.org/info/how-long-after-drinking-can-i-drive/

**** GOV.UK website: https://www.gov.uk/drink-driving-penalties (accessed 31/10/2022)

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