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Driving And Alcohol

By: Bob Bluffield - Updated: 30 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Drink Driving Alcohol Law Driving Law

Published sources claim that 6% of all road casualties and 18% of deaths (provisional) can be attributed to an involved party being over the legal drink limit. These figures may not appear high but unless you have been connected in some way with an alcohol related accident it may be difficult to appreciate the implications. Yet, the permitted alcohol limit in the UK remains higher than in eleven other EU countries.

The Effects of Alcohol

We've all heard the term Dutch Courage which means taking risks while under the influence of drink and it doesn't take much alcohol to lull you into a risk taking situation. If you're inebriated and in charge of a vehicle this is comparable to pulling the trigger on a loaded gun. Both provide a means to kill…

Alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream very quickly yet wears off slowly. It takes just ten minutes for your body to absorb 50% of any alcohol you've consumed; an hour for your entire consumption to enter your bloodstream. The booze you drank last night will still be present in your system more than twelve hours later and no amount of hot coffee will alter this fact.

What Are the Legal Limits?

There are three ways of measuring the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream:
  • 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath
  • 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood
  • 107 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of urine
These levels are low when translated into the number of alcoholic units an adult might consume. As a very rough indication, 4 units of alcohol for men and 3 for women is all that is required before you are legally unfit to drive. Compare these units to a single measure of spirits (1 unit), strong lager (3 units), standard lager (2 units) and a small glass of wine (average 1.5 units) and you will realise just how little you need to drink before being over the limit.

How the Law Stands

In theory the police cannot stop you and demand that you take a breathalyser test unless they have reasonable cause to suspect you of committing a traffic offence, they can smell alcohol on your breath or they believe that you've been involved in an accident.

If stopped, any person who is driving, attempting to drive or is in charge of a vehicle in a public place (including pub car parks and petrol station forecourts) can be asked to take a test to measure the amount of alcohol in their breath. If you refuse or the test proves positive you will be arrested and taken to a police station where you will usually be required to provide two further breath specimens that will be analysed by one of three approved instruments currently in use. If the two readings differ, the police will accept the lowest. If you're over the legal limit you will be charged. If you refuse to provide a breath sample without a reasonable excuse such as a medical condition, you will also be charged. You do not have the right to insist on a blood or urine test instead.

If the lower of the readings taken is 35-39 micrograms you will be released without charge but may be cautioned; if it is between 40 and 50 micrograms you must be offered the option of providing a blood or urine sample. The police cannot take blood samples without your consent but if you refuse to provide a sample the police can rely on the breath test results.

Penalties For Drink Driving

The penalties for drinking and driving are high so it pays to stay away from one while doing the other. If you fail to provide a roadside breath test you can expect to receive 4 points on your licence and a fine of up to £1000. The punishment increases pro-rata to the offence up to a maximum of 11 points of your licence, a £5000 fine, at least a 3-year ban and imprisonment for the most serious or repeat cases.

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Personally, I feel the police are doing a good job in this respect.Recently I've been pulled over a few times for routine roadside checks.After confirming address, insurance, etc and waiting for the background checks to come back the officer wished me a safe journey.As it was clear I hadn't been drinking I wasn't breathalysed and in each case the officer was polite & professional.Good to see regular checks taking place and a sensible attitude prevailing. Far better to be checking up on uninsured drivers and those without MOTs than to be breathalysing every motorist routinely stopped.There has to be the right balance.Drink driving limits are already strict and deter most from drinking & driving.I think the best use of resources is to educate with regards to the danger of drink driving than to have more traffic cops or lower alcohol limits.The very fact that phrases like 'designated driver' are coming into regular usage demonstrates that the govmnt campaigns are working. As for banning smoking & driving as suggested by Kev; I think that would increase accidents.Smokers need regular nicotine to concentrate and drivers need to be able to concentrate.On a long journey it's just not practical to pull over every 20 mins. Good article but I think education is the best way forward rather than increasing penalties & policing and lowering alcohol limits even further.
Big Al - 30-Sep-12 @ 11:44 PM
Drinking slows the reactions tremendously, that's proven, and it clouds the decision-making process, which needs to be sharp when you're on the road. While it's impossible to stop all drinking and driving, making that illegal, lowering the legal levels even more would cut down on accidents. However, given the number of people who flout the law by using their mobiles when driving and who get away with it, how well would any stricter law be enforced?
Taylor - 23-Jun-12 @ 9:36 AM
It has always interested me how much effort is put into stopping Drink driving. We all know that Drink driving is 7% of all road incidents. I'm not advocating that we stop looking at drink driving but we should also be looking at the other incidents.Many insurance companies do their own research into accidents and i believe thatfalling asleep is very high on the list plus what will be hard to stop people are just not interested in being a safe driver. Every day you see people eating and drinking at the wheel, and mothers turning round to speak to their children in the back. But the worst has to be smokers. They have their hands of the wheel, smoke drifting into their eyes which impairs their vision and so their concentration is also reduced. If it is a major problem to use a mobile phone while driving then smoking comes higher in the order of habits that cause accidents.
Kev - 13-Mar-11 @ 8:20 AM
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