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Drink Driving Law in the UK

Drink Driving Law in the UK

Drink driving is a criminal offence under the Road Traffic Act 1988. The drink driving law in the UK is included in Part I of the Act, Principal Road Safety Provisions both under the subtitle Driving Offences and the section referring to Motor vehicles: drink and drugs.

The main sections that can be considered the pillars of the drink driving law in the UK are 3A, 4, 5 and 5A, however, other sections are relevant for the prosecution of offenders, especially when they refer to the refusal to provide a preliminary impairment test.

Understanding the provisions of the drink driving law, namely the Road Traffic Act, is important for those who are accused of driving offences such as drink driving. Talking to a team of experts, for example, a drink drive solicitor from our team, can be helpful for all those who are involved in accidents or, more serious, in the injury or death of another individual as a direct result of driving under the influence. 

What does the drink driving law in UK state about drink limits?

One of the most important issues to take into consideration when discussing driving offences involving drink driving is the different limits for driving under the influence. For the purpose of this article, we will state below the limits applicable in England and Wales, however, drivers should be well aware that other limits apply in Scotland. 

Quick facts  
Legal framework related to drink driving in the UK

Road Traffic Act 1988

Drink driving limits in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland


– 35 micrograms/100 ml of breath,

– 80 milligrams/ 100 ml of blood,

– 107 milligrams/ 100 ml of urine

Drink driving limits in Scotland

– 22 micrograms/ 100 ml of breath,

– 50 milligrams/100 ml of blood, 

– 67 milligrams/100 ml of urine

Definition of drunk driving offence

Driving or attempting to drive on a road or public place while unfit to do.

Possible penalties for drunk driving

– 3 months imprisonment,

– up to £2,500 fine,

– driving ban

Possible penalties for attempting to drunk drive


– months imprisonment,

– unlimited fine,

– driving ban for at least 1 or 3 years

Possible penalties for refusing specimen


– 6 months imprisonment,

– unlimited fine,

– driving ban for at least 1 year

Death by careless driving while drunk

Penalties are very serious, including life imprisonment. Contact our driving offence solicitors in these cases.

High risk offenders

Considered if have been convicted of 2 drunk driving offenses within a span of 10 years, refused to provide specimen, and drove above a higher limit.

Aggravating factors for sentence

– previous convictions,

– passengers in the car,

– pedestrians involved,

– unacceptable standard of driving,

– causing other accidents, etc.

Mitigating factors for sentence

– no other convictions,

– genuine emergency,

– spiked drinks,

– short driven distance,

– driver shows remorse and good character, etc.

Length time of offence on criminal record


Between 4-11 years, depending on offence.

Pleading guilty

Our motoring solicitors advise you to plead guilty, as your sentence will be reduced.

Drink-drive rehabilitation course

Reduces your ban if it is 12 months or more.

How can our drink drive solicitors help

– legal representation,

– create defense strategy,

– minimize penalties,

– offer legal advice,

– review evidence, etc.

The limit, according to the drink driving law in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are the following:

  • 35: the level of alcohol in micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath;
  • 80: the alcohol level in milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood;
  • 107: the level of alcohol in milligrammes per 100 millilitres of urine.

It is important to note that alcohol affects individuals in different ways that depend on age, sex, weight and other factors such as metabolism. Thus, the level of alcohol defined by the drink driving law in UK may not present itself in the same manner for all individuals. 

Our drink driving solicitor in London can give you information on the limits that apply in Scotland, should this be something of interest. Upon request, we provide further clarifications on how these limits are interpretated and how the results of the testing can be debatable.

What are some of the other important provisions of the Road Traffic act concerning drink driving? 

Driving or being in charge of a motor vehicle while under the influence of drink or drugs is defined in the following manner in the drink driving law in the Road Traffic Act:

  • An individual who, when driving or attempting this action, on a road or another public place, is unfit to drive through drink or drugs. In doing so, this person is guilty of an offence.
  • Without prejudice to the definition above, an individual is also guilty of an offence when he is in charge of a vehicle located on a road or another public place and he is unfit to do so through drink or drugs.

For the purpose of interpreting whether or not the individual was in charge of the motorized vehicle, the following apply:

  • An individual will not be deemed to have been in charge of the vehicle when he is able to show that during that particular period the circumstances were as such as there would have been no change for him to attempt driving, so long as he remained unfit through drink.

According to the drink driving law, an individual is considered unfit to drive if his ability to properly operate the vehicle, for the time being, is impaired. 

An individual accused of an offence under subsection (1)(b) of the Act is required to prove that at the time he was accused of having committed the offence, there was no likelihood of him driving the vehicle whilst the level of alcohol in his breath, blood or urine remained above the prescribed limit.

The detention of persons affected by alcohol is also stipulated in the Act as such:

  • an individual who is required under law to provide a breath, blood or urine specimen can be detained at a police station (or arrested and taken to a police station of the specimen was provided someplace else);

The requirement for detention does not apply when the accused individual does not appear to the constable that he might attempt to drive a vehicle while he is impaired to drive property and whilst the proportion of alcohol in one’s breath, blood or urine exceeds the prescribed limit. 

Our solicitors present a video on the Drink Drive Law in the UK:

Principal Road Safety Provisions summarized

The issues regarding drink driving are contained in a special chapter of the Road Traffic Act 1988, namely the Motor vehicles: drinks and drugs section. Under this chapter, from section 4 to section 10, the law defines the issues mentioned above, which are again summarized below by our driving offence solicitors:

  • driving, or being in charge, while under the influence of drink or drugs;
  • driving or being in charge of a motor vehicle with alcohol concentration above the prescribed limit;
  • power to administer preliminary tests, with its subsequent sections for the preliminary breath test, the preliminary impairment test and the preliminary drug test;
  • arrest;
  • power of entry;
  • provision of specimens for analysis and the section that include the special case in which the said specimen is taken from individuals incapable of consenting;
  • the situation in which the breath specimen shows a higher alcohol level and it is to be disregarded;
  • the protection for hospital patients;
  • the detention of individuals affected by alcohol or a drug.

As some of the issues, such as the prescribed limit for the alcohol concentration have been mentioned above, our driving solicitors highlight the importance of the preliminary tests below. Individuals accused of drink driving should know that it is important to comply with this initial assessment as a special type of penalty concerns this particular refusal. Reaching out to our solicitors as fast as possible will provide help in those cases in which the offender is taken to the police station and additional samples are collected.

According to law, the breath test can be administered at or near the location where the incident took place. The constable may choose to administer the test at a police station of his choice, and should believe that this solution is expedient. Regardless of the case, the test must be performed with a type of device approved by the Secretary of State. This is an important issue and our drink driving solicitors in London will ask you to provide detailed information on how the collection of samples was made, in order to certify that it occurred as prescribed by law. If your rights were not observed (for example, the type of device was an improper one or had other issues) our solicitors would build your case accordingly.

A special situation occurs when the specimen is collected from an individual who was unable to consent to the procedure. Our motoring offence solicitors describe this below.

The constable may ask a medical practitioner to take a specimen of blood from an individual (the person concerned) irrespective of whether the individual consents in the following situations:

  • the person is someone from whom the constable would require the provision of a specimen in the absence of any incapacity of that person;
  • the constable believes that the individual is or may be incapable of giving valid consent for the purpose of taking a specimen of blood;
  • the constable believes that the incapacity is due to medical reasons.

Such a request should not be made to the medical health practitioner unless it is not reasonably practicable for the practitioner to take the specimen. When this is possible, it is lawful for the medical practitioner who receives such a request to proceed to collect the sample of blood irrespective of whether the person consents and provide the sample to the constable.

When a specimen is taken from an incapacitated individual, the said specimen shall not be subject to laboratory testing unless the individual from whom it was taken has been informed that this action took place, has been required by a constable to give permission for the laboratory test of the specimen and has offered his permission for this purpose. The constable is obliged by law to inform a person in this position that his refusal to give permission for a laboratory test of a specimen of blood may render the person liable to prosecution. The individual who, without a reasonable excuse, fails to offer this permission is guilty of an offence.

Detention for persons affected by alcohol

Persons required to provide specimen samples to determine the level of alcohol may be detained at the police station if the constable has reasonable grounds to believe that the said individual, had he attempted to drive or had actually driven, was to commit an offence under Section 4 (Driving, or being in charge when under the influence of drink or drugs). The detainment does not apply should the constable believe that there is no likelihood for that person to drive or attempt to drive (given the fact that the person’s ability to drive properly is impaired).

Main penalties for drink driving according to UK law

We remind you that an individual who is found guilty of drink driving is subject to three possible levels of punishment for his or her acts: a driving ban, a fine, or even imprisonment. In practice, the decision to imprison the individual depends on the severity of the accident and whether or not other people were gravely injured or possibly killed in the crash.

The maximum sentence in the UK for excess alcohol, both when the individual was driving and when he or she was attempting to drive is an unlimited fine and/or six months custody. The driver can also lose the license for at least 12 months.

There are ways in which the individual found guilty of drink driving or attempting to drive may reduce the sentence: he or she can complete a drink drive rehabilitation course. This is an option when the ban on driving is for 12 months or more and the individual is required to pay the participation fee, in the amount of approximately £250. The course, when completed in a certain amount of time, can reduce the ban on driving by a quarter, in most cases. Individuals who take this into consideration should note that their decision to take the course is final and cannot be changed. They are asked to decide if their case is taken to court and they will state their decision during the proceedings.

A drink-drive rehabilitation course is selected from a list of courses made available by different providers. The individual has the possibility to choose the provider and the course date as well as change the provider for issues such as those regarding the schedule of the course. The aim of the course is to prevent the individual from another drink-drive act. The meetings are face-to-face and the total time is 16 hours.

Our drink driving solicitors in London can give you more details about the options you have for reducing the driving ban and about the rehabilitation courses in general.

Individuals who are found guilty of drink driving can also face other problems, in addition to the maximum sentences described above.

They can be subject to an increased insurance premium, along with having a harder time traveling to other countries, such as the United States.

In addition to these, individuals employed as drivers can have a problem after being found guilty of drink driving, because the employer will be able to see the conviction on their license (which can lead to job loss or having a harder time finding employment as a driver).

Depending on the individual’s area of work, the fact that he or she can receive a criminal record if found to be driving over the drink drive limit can also cause problems and/or lead to an inability to secure employment (or reduce one’s options drastically).

In summary, the individual who is found to be over the drink drive limit will face several problems, all of which can be avoided by making sure that one is not put in the position to drive or attempt to drive whilst over the drink drive limit in the UK.

Tougher penalties for causing death while driving under the influence of alcohol

The highest possible penalty is awarded when causing death while driving dangerously under the influence of alcohol.

Under law, until the end of June 2022 the maximum penalty was 14 years imprisonment. If the offence was committed after June 28th, 2022, the maximum penalty is life imprisonment.

Drivers who cause long-term or permanent injuries while driving are also subject to tougher sentences.

Lawmakers have justified the toughening of the sentences by highlighting the fact that many lives were lost as a result of reckless behaviour while driving, and that families have been devastated as a direct result. Drivers who exhibit this very dangerous behaviour are a threat to all citizens, and are now subject to the harshest possible penalties when their actions lead to the death of another individual.

The Crown Prosecution Service can still charge individuals with murder/manslaughter when evidence points to the fact that a vehicle as used as a weapon to commit murder or cause grievous bodily harm.

The legislative changes were first announced back in 2017 and were changed in 2022 to apply to offences issued in England, Scotland and Wales. They do not apply to Northern Ireland, which has separate laws, as previously stated.

How driving or attempted driving in excess alcohol is sentenced in the UK

Court proceedings in the UK take place according to the principle of fairness and equal treatment. That being said, in case of driving or attempting to drive while above the national alcohol limit is subject to a number of criteria for sentencing.

How an individual is punished under the drink driving law in the UK depends on the act itself, the level of alcohol in the analysed specimen as well as any previous convictions and their nature, if any.

Our team of driving offence solicitors highlights below some of the most important issues that are taken into consideration by the Magistrate’s Courts and the Crown Court.

Aggravating factors under the law are the following: 

  • previous convictions that are related to the nature of the present one;
  • carrying passengers;
  • unacceptable standard of driving;
  • involvement in an accident;
  • a high level of traffic or pedestrians in the vicinity;

The defendant who pleads guilty in a drink drive case can receive a reduced sentence, however not a reduced drive ban period.

Factors that can help mitigate the sentence include the following:

  • the individual has no previous convictions or, in case he/she does have a conviction these are not recent ones;
  • there was a genuine emergency that made it mandatory to engage in drink driving;
  • the driven distance was very short;
  • the driver had a serious medica condition, a medical disorder or learning disability;
  • the driver is the primary carer for other dependent individuals;
  • the driver showed good character or remorse;
  • the driver did not know that a drink was spiked.

Working with a drink driving solicitor in London, such as an expert from our team, can help you prove one or more of the mitigating factors, should these apply in your case. We can also give you more information on how the sentences are calculated.

The guidelines for the fines applicable in drink drive cases are a percentage of the relevant weekly income and are calculated according to the seriousness of the offence as well as the offender’s financial situation. A general guideline is that the fine should be set in such a way in which it should not be cheaper to offend than to comply with the law in force.

Fine Band A is the lowest one possible and it can range between 25 and 75% of the relevant weekly income. Intermediate values between the lowest point and the highest one for a fine include 75 to 125% of the income, 125 to 175% of the income, 200 to 300% and 300 to 500% of the income. Fine Band F is the maximum one and it can range between 500 and 700% of the relevant weekly income. The offender must provide information on their relevant financial status for the purpose of calculating the fine.

Our team of driving offence solicitors in the United Kingdom can provide more detailed information on the provisions of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and the manner in which this Act is enforced by the Crown Prosecution.

Gaining your driver’s license back when disqualified

When drunk driving leads to a disqualification (which can often be the case, given the fact that the other penalties include fines or prison sentences), the individual will need to apply for a new licence before being able to drive again.

Our team can help you check your driving record to see when the disqualification period finishes and will help you reapply for a provisional or full driving licence before this period ends.

To reapply for the licence, the individual will need to fill in and send back a special form which is sent to their address by the DVLA. This form will arrive at the offender’s address 56 days before the end of the disqualification or 90 days before the date, in case of high-risk offenders.

The individual sends back the form, duly filled-in, together with a driving licence fee and, in some cases, a new photograph.

Important note for individuals who hold a non-GB licence: the authorities return the licence once the disqualification period ends.

Even though the process to reapply for a licence starts before the end of the period, the individual is prohibited from driving before the end of the disqualification period.

Our team can give you more information on the penalties you face if you fail to observe these requirements.

Contact us for legal assistance in all cases involving driving offences in England.