Questions we answer in this guide:
- What are the different drink-drive limits around the UK?
- What is drug driving?
- What happens if you're stopped by the police and they suspect you of drink or drug driving?
- What are the penalties of drink driving and drug driving?
Along with dangerous driving, driving while unfit through the effects of drink or drugs, be they legal or illegal are the most serious offences, whether you are involved in an accident or not.
Among other problems, drink and/or drug drivers can suffer from reduced reaction times, drive more aggressively by acting on impulses they would normally ignore and their vision may be blurred or otherwise impaired. You may be imprisoned, fined and face a driving ban if you are found guilty of either offence.
And following a conviction, drivers will get a criminal record and the offence can remain on the driver’s license for up to 11 years, making it difficult to find affordable insurance cover, harming employment prospects and prohibiting them from entering other countries overseas (including the U.S.) in the future.
What is the drink drive limit?
The limits are different between England and Wales, and Scotland where they are slightly stricter. In England and Wales, the limit is set at 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood,107 milligrams per 100 milliliters of blood and 35 micrograms per 100 milliliters of breath.
In Scotland, the limit is more in line with the limit in other European Union countries, set at 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood, which reduces to 22 micrograms of alcohol per 100 milliliters of breath.
Because of these figures, the amount of alcohol one person may drink and still be under the limit can vary greatly from someone else. Even people of the same size and with the same level of tolerance may come unstuck if they haven’t eaten or have drunk different drinks but with the same volume of alcohol.
Furthermore, each of our breaks down alcohol at different speeds and many motorists are unaware that they may still be over the limit well in to the following day.
What is drug driving?
Drug driving, like drink driving is the offence of driving while unfit to do so, but due of the effects of legal or illegal drugs.
Unlike drink driving though, motorists under the influence of illegal drugs can be charged with an offence should police detect even trace amounts in their system, regardless of whether there’s any evidence that a substance may have impaired their driving.
Meanwhile, users of legal drugs, or in other words, prescribed or over the counter medicines, can be found to be in contravention of the law if their driving is suffering as a result of taking them. For example, particularly strong painkillers, whether prescribed to your or not, will affect your ability to drive after a certain point.
You can still drive after taking these medicines, provided you are following the advice of a healthcare professional on how to take them and they are not causing you to be unfit to drive. If you are on strong prescription medication and you haven’t already done so, you should talk to your doctor about whether you should be driving.
There are limits in England and Wales to the amount of certain prescription medicines you can have in your system when in charge of a vehicle, but there are no such limits in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
However, the police can still arrest you and charge you with an offence if they deem you unfit to drive.
What happens if you’re stopped by the police when driving?
On the road, the police may stop any vehicle for any reason. If you’re asked to stop, you should pull over as soon as it is safe to do so.
The police can only ask you to take a breath test if:
- They have reason to believe you have committed a traffic offence;
- After stopping your vehicle, they suspect that you have consumed alcohol; or
- You were or are suspected to have been involved in an accident.
It is an offence to refuse to provide a sample to the police. You may be banned from driving, face an unlimited fine and in the most serious cases, a prison sentence of up to 6 months.
If a roadside test is positive, the police will arrest you and take you to a police station for a follow up test. The follow up test consists of providing two more samples to police. The police must take the lowest of these two samples to decide whether or not an offence has been committed.
You have a right to replace the breath sample with either a blood or urine test if it’s within 40% of the legal limit.
The police can ask you to submit to a roadside Field Impairment Assessment if they suspect you have taken drugs, committed a traffic offence or been involved in an accident.
The Field Impairment Assessment consists of measuring the size of the driver’s pupils in their eyes and their reaction to light and other tests designed to determine physical impairment such as difficulty balancing by standing on one leg or walking and turning while stepping heel to toe.
The police may also administer a swab test which checks for the presence of both cannabis and cocaine in a driver’s system.
As with drink driving, if you fail either the Field Impairment Assessment or a swab test, the police will arrest you and take you to a police station for a follow up blood or urine test.
If these follow up tests find you have exceeded the limits set for either legal or illegal drugs, or the police can prove your driving was impaired despite your sample you provided falling below the limits, then they can charge you.
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