Understanding Drink Driving Limits: How Many Units Can Land You in Trouble?

Drink driving is a serious and well-known criminal offence, but the specific boundaries of the drink driving limit can often feel hazy after a night out. For drivers in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and indeed throughout the UK, understanding what is considered the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and how much alcohol could put you over the drink-drive limit can be helpful. So how many units of alcohol are too many? And what can you do to protect yourself if you accidentally cross that line?

Know Your Units: Understanding BAC

The UK has justifiably strict alcohol limits for getting behind the wheel. If you are caught drink driving, your breath, blood, or urine will be tested against this legal limit. The legal limit for alcohol consumption in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland is 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath, and 107 milligrams per 100 millilitres of urine. In Scotland, the legal limit for milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood is only 50. What these numbers translate to in terms of units of alcohol in actual drinks can take some careful calculations.

How to Translate Units to Drinks

While there is no hard and fast rule for how many units of alcohol are safe, we’ve often heard health advice to not exceed 14 units of alcohol a week. What does that really mean in pints of beer, glasses of wine or measures of spirits?

  • A standard UK drink contains about 8g of pure alcohol, known as one UK alcohol unit.
  • One UK unit equals about half a pint of normal-strength beer, a small glass of wine, or one single measure of spirits. A single strong pint or large glass of wine can have as many as three units.
  • While it varies from person to person, the general guidance states that it takes about one hour for the human body to metabolise one unit of alcohol. This means that men should aim to consume under two units per hour and women should stick to one unit per hour to ensure there is minimal alcohol left in their blood and allow time for their bodies to process the alcohol and stay under the limit. After just one or two drinks, it can take two hours or more before you are completely sober.

The Safe Limit Myth: How Factors Impact BAC

Even drinking minimal alcohol affects your judgement, reaction times, and vision, which can lead to devastating accidents even if you are below the legal drink driving limit. While it is best to avoid alcohol altogether before getting behind the wheel at all if you plan to drink, many people wonder, how many units can you drink and drive? The answer varies from person to person, meaning there is no foolproof way to calculate how much you can drink before exceeding the drink-drive limit. Your alcohol levels depend on numerous factors, including:

Individual Alcohol Metabolism

Everyone metabolises alcohol at different rates, and drinks that are safe for one person could make someone else over the legal limit or unfit to drive. Factors like body mass, sex, age, and even genetic factors contribute to how quickly you process alcohol. Smaller people will have less blood and water in their bodies, meaning they will have a higher blood-to-alcohol ratio than a larger person who drinks the same amount. Generally speaking, women can drink fewer alcohol units than men before reaching a BAC over the legal limit, and metabolise alcohol slower than men. Knowing your own limits is important for ensuring you don’t exceed the legal alcohol limit, especially before driving.

Food and Other Substances

Whether you have eaten recently plays a role in metabolising alcohol. Eating a substantial meal before or during drinking can slow the alcohol absorption rate into the blood, which can lower your BAC. Drugs, including prescription medication, common over-the-counter drugs, or illegal drugs can cause unexpected reactions and can cause a significant increase in BAC or impairment and put you over the legal alcohol limit. Always check a medication’s label before taking it with alcohol.

Stress and Illness

Stress levels and certain illnesses can impact your metabolism and cause slower alcohol processing, meaning that the number of alcohol units that were safe to drink a week ago could potentially put you over the drink-drive alcohol limit today.

Can You Calculate BAC?

Predicting your BAC is not straightforward. Online BAC calculators can estimate the effect of the amount of alcohol you drink, your weight, and the period over which you’re drinking, but this is a tool for estimation and should never be a barometer for driving safety. The fact remains that if you are pulled over by the police and there is alcohol detected in your system above the drink-drive limit, you will be taken to a police station and face the possibility of a drink driving conviction.

The Legal and Personal Consequences of Drink-Driving

If you are caught driving over the legal limit and are found guilty in criminal court, the penalties are severe. drink driving penalties can include:

  • A mandatory minimum one-year driving ban instead of penalty points on your licence (three years if convicted twice within ten years)
  • An unlimited fine (at the court’s discretion)
  • Imprisonment of up to six months for first-time offenders (in extreme cases, such as dangerous driving where others were endangered while you were driving under the influence of alcohol)
  • Community service
  • A criminal record. It takes five years for a conviction to become spent, meaning it will show up on Standard DBS checks by employers and landlords. Once your driving ban is lifted, you will likely pay up to 80% more for car insurance. A criminal record could also lead to trouble travelling since many countries require you to disclose criminal convictions before issuing a visa.
  • If your careless driving while over the legal alcohol limit causes someone’s death, you could be subject to life imprisonment.

The actual penalty you receive for exceeding the drink-drive limit will depend on the concentration of alcohol in your breath, blood, or urine, the severity of the offence, and the discretion of the court. The only way to guarantee you can drive safely is to not drink beforehand.

How a Solicitor Can Help

If you are pulled over after drinking, deemed to be over the legal limit or unfit to drive and find yourself facing a drink-driving charge, it is vital to seek help from a solicitor like #1 Motoring Solicitors. A solicitor can examine details of your case you might not have considered and provide you with the advice you need regarding your rights, the legal process, and potential defence strategies. Their role is to guide you through the complex court process and work to achieve the best possible outcome for your situation.

Prevention Is the Best Policy

Drink drive limits can serve as a guideline, but the only foolproof way to avoid drinking and driving is to abstain from drinking if you’re planning to drive. Before you head out, you and your group should choose a designated driver. Alternatively, you can plan to take public transport or use a service like a taxi or a rideshare to get home safely without risking anyone’s safety or penalties like a driving ban, unlimited fine, or imprisonment.

Safety Comes First

Knowing how many units you can drink can land you in trouble is helpful, but safety is paramount. By being informed and making responsible choices, you can protect yourself and others on the road. If in doubt, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and not drink before driving. After all, the cost of a few drinks is nothing compared to the potential cost of a drink driving offence. Even if you are under the drink drive limits, you could still be too impaired to drive safely. Stay safe, stay sober, and always seek out the safest means of travel if you’ve been drinking. Next time you’re out and about, remember to drink responsibly and stay within the legal limits – your safety and the safety of others depends on it.

Drink Driving limit to be reduced?

Proposed amendments to The Road Traffic Act 1988 are awaiting further consideration by the House of Lords. Should the suggestions within the Bill become law, the drink driving alcohol breath limit will be reduced from 35 microgrammes of alcohol in breath to only 14 microgrammes of alcohol in breath.

This represents the present alcohol breath limit being reduced by more than half. There is a zero tolerance policy operated by police forces across England and Wales to drink driving offences. A positive road side breath test above the legal limit will almost certainly result in an arrest.

There is no safe amount of alcohol that can be consumed to guarantee that you are under the drink drive limit. Each of us will metabolise alcohol at different rates depending upon a variety of personal factors.

Should the drink drive limits be reduced in the near future, the safest way to drive and avoid being arrested or prosecuted for drink driving is not to consume any alcohol before driving.

We will wait and see whether the law on drink driving is changed and the legal limit of alcohol in breath reduced.

Single Justice Procedure Notice

What is a Single Justice Procedure Notice?

The Single Justice Procedure applies only to cases involving adults charged with summary-only non-imprisonable offences, at present it is primarily used to prosecute motoring offences. The single justice procedure started in April 2015 having been introduced under The Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015.

It will enable relatively minor motoring cases to be dealt with by a single magistrate sitting with a legal adviser considering the police and court papers without the attendance of either a prosecutor or the motorist at Court. Instead the motorist is ‘encouraged’ to engage with the Court and the single justice procedure by making written representations.

Prosecutors and police will identify motoring cases which might be suitable for the single justice procedure. These will be commenced by a written charge and a document called a ‘single justice procedure notice.’ The primary purpose of the single justice procedure is to ensure that straight forward motoring offences are taken from the traditional Court setting and dealt with in a closed court to be determined by a Single Magistrate with no prosecutor or defendant present.

What will be the first notification that the motorist will receive advising them that they face prosecution under the Single Justice Procedure?

A single justice procedure notice will be sent to the motorist by post explaining the offence which has has allegedly occurred – there will be supporting documentation with the single justice procedure notice which will explain the options available to the motorist. The Notice will be accompanied by the evidence upon which the prosecutor will be relying to prove the case, more often than not the police statements which are said to prove the motoring offence.

The notice will give the motorist a date by which to respond in writing to the allegation – rather than giving a date to physically attend court. However, the motorist has the right to request a traditional hearing in open court. For example, if he/she wishes to plead not guilty, or otherwise wants to have a hearing in open court to dispute all or part of the motoring offence.

In cases where a motorist pleads guilty and indicates that he/she would like to have the matter dealt with in his absence (or fails to respond to the notice) a single magistrate will consider the case on the basis of the evidence submitted in writing by the prosecutor, along with any written mitigation from the motorist. The single magistrate can convict and sentence in the absence of the motorist.

The importance therefore in responding to the Single Justice Procedure Notice and making the appropriate written representations can not therefore be over stated. Without written representations from the driver about their case the case will proceed regardless.

If a single magistrate considers at any point that it would be inappropriate to continue with the case under the single justice procedure, the magistrate should then refer the case to a traditional magistrates’ court to be dealt with in the usual way. In this case, the motorist will be advised of the date upon which he/she should attend the Magistrates Court.

In what circumstances should the accused motorist request a hearing in open court?

If you do not accept the allegations or disagree with any of the facts of the motoring offence this should be highlighted within the single justice procedure notice paperwork and the motorist should request a Court hearing.

Moreover, if there is any suggestion that the motorist will be disqualified from driving or is at risk of being banned from driving then an appearance before a traditional court should be requested. This will allow oral representations to be made on the drivers behalf to the Magistrates Court in the usual way.

I have received a Single Justice Procedure Notice in the post for a motoring offence, should I seek legal advice?

Receiving a single justice procedure notice is no different to receiving a summons to attend Court – if there is anything that you are uncertain of, if you dispute any aspect of the motoring offence or if there is any risk that you will be banned from driving you should take legal advice and in any event ensure that you highlight your views within the single justice procedure paperwork.

#1 Motoring Solicitors provide advice to clients facing prosecution for all types of motoring offences that are prosecuted under the Single Justice Procedure. We are able to assist motorists in making written representations to the Court and provide the most appropriate advice in how to respond to the single justice procedure notice. Call us today for an initial telephone consultation to discuss any questions you have about about this relatively new court procedure.