Driving whilst under the influence of drink
Drink driving remains a huge problem in the UK. Despite the obvious dangers and risks of driving while under the influence of alcohol and the fact that it is against the law* to do so, many UK motorists still decide it is safe to get behind the wheel of a car with alcohol in their system.
* Under Section 4 of the 1988 Road Traffic Act and Section 1 of the 1991 Road Traffic Act, it is an offence to use or be in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or public place whilst under the influence of drink or drugs.
Drink driving facts and figures
In the UK, eleven people are killed by drink drivers every week, and one in six road deaths is caused by drivers who are over the legal drink-drive limit. Other facts and figures include:
- Around 3,500 people are killed or seriously injured each year in accidents involving drink drivers.
- More than 90,000 motorists were convicted of drink driving in 2007.
- People under the age of 30 have the most drink-related collisions, with 20 to 24-year-olds being the worst offenders.
- Around 50% of drink-drive fatalities occur between 10.00pm and 4.00am on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
The current legal limit of alcohol in the body is:
- 35 micrograms (µg) of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath
- 80 milligrams (mg) of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood
- 107 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine
Many drivers are still unclear about the legal limit. Some believe that it’s fine to have one unit of alcohol (a glass of wine, a measure of spirit or half a pint of beer) and then drive, while others think it’s ok to drive after drinking as long as they have had something to eat or have drank some coffee/water. However, it is important for motorists to remember that there is no way of speeding up the process of getting alcohol out of their system, i.e. ‘sobering up’. The underlying fact is that it is not safe to drink and drive at all.
Alcohol breathalysers were introduced in Britain in 1967. The police can use breathalysers to carry out PBT's (preliminary breath tests) and EBT's (evidential breath tests).
Preliminary Breath Testing
Preliminary breath tests are used for screening purposes and indicate whether the level of alcohol in a person’s system is likely to exceed the prescribed drink-drive limit. The preliminary breath test readings allow police officers to decide whether or not to arrest a person suspected of drink driving, but are not used as admissible evidence for the basis of a prosecution in a court of law.
In the UK a police officer can insist on a driver providing a roadside breath test if he has reasonable cause to believe the driver has committed a traffic offence, has been involved in an accident or has consumed alcohol/drugs.
Evidential Breath Testing
If a driver is arrested for suspected drink driving he will then be taken to the police station and will be required to undertake an evidential breath test and provide two samples of breath. Evidential breath testing machine readings are used as admissible evidence for the basis of a prosecution in court.
Possible outcomes of the evidential breath test
- If there is a significant difference between the two readings then the results are deemed unreliable and a blood or urine test will then be carried out.
- If the reading is below 35 µg and 39 µg/100 ml breath, the driver will then be released with caution or without charge.
- If the reading is between 40 µg and 50 µg/100 ml breath, the driver has the right to ask for a blood sample.
- If the reading is above 50 µg/100 ml breath the driver will then be prosecuted.
Penalties for drink driving
The penalties for being caught driving while under the influence of alcohol can be severe. As well as the risk of causing a fatal accident, there are also the legal implications of drink driving to consider.
If you are convicted of driving while being over the drink drive limit, and/or driving while impaired by alcohol, you will automatically be banned from driving for one year and receive a hefty fine. You could also receive a maximum penalty of six months in prison. Repeat drink driving offenders can expect to receive a lengthier sentence.
If you kill or severely injure someone while under the influence of alcohol, you may be charged with death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs, which carries a maximum penalty of fourteen years in prison.
A drink driving conviction can also mean:
- A criminal record with the conviction for drink driving remaining on your licence for 11 years;
- Attendance on a drink driver’s rehabilitation course;
- The possibility of undergoing medical examinations before being allowed to drive again;
- A huge increase in insurance premiums when you are able to drive again;
- The possibility of receiving a community order;
- The possibility of losing your job;
- Visa restrictions (particularly in terms of entry to the USA).
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