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Drink driving law

Don't exceed the prescribed limit

It is an offence to drive, attempt to drive, or be in charge of a motor vehicle on a road or public place if the level of alcohol in your breath, blood or urine exceeds the prescribed limit.


The law specifically states that your alcohol level at the time of any alleged offence is presumed to be the same, or not less than, the result of the analysis of the breath, blood or urine sample.

It may be possible to challenge this if you can show that:

  • you had consumed alcohol after you stopped driving but before the specimen for analysis was provided, and
  • had you not taken that alcohol you would not have been over the limit, and
  • your ability to drive would not have been impaired

If the offence alleged is being 'in charge', it is a defence if you can show that there was no likelihood of you driving while you were over the limit.

Legal limit

The legal limit of alcohol in the body is:

  • 35 micrograms (µg) per 100 millilitres of breath
  • 80 milligrams (mg) per 100 millilitres of blood
  • 107 milligrams per 100 millilitres of urine
New lower limit for Scotland

On 5 December 2014 the drink drive limit in Scotland was lowered to 50 milligrams (mg) per 100 millilitres of blood.

Find out more »

 

Failing to provide a sample

You commit an offence and risk automatic disqualification if you:

  • fail to provide a specimen of breath for a preliminary breath test, or
  • fail to provide a specimen of breath/blood/urine at the police station when requested (unless you have a reasonable excuse*), or
  • refuse to provide a specimen
In law
  • Imposing conditions such as delaying giving a sample until a solicitor arrives amounts to a refusal.
  • The police are under no obligation to delay the process of taking samples and unless there is a relevant medical reason, our advice is that you should never refuse to give a specimen, regardless of whether you feel your refusal would be justified or not.

If you refuse and a court subsequently doesn't accept your reasons, it will be too late to avoid the offence of refusal.

A conviction for failing or refusing to give a sample at the police station would make you liable to an automatic disqualification.

Unfit to drive

It is an offence to drive, attempt to drive, or be in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or public place while unfit through drink or drugs.

You would be considered unfit if your ability to drive properly is impaired, even if the amount of alcohol in your body is within the prescribed limit.

Evidence of being unfit may be found, for example, in erratic driving, the occurrence of an accident, or your condition.

Penalties

It is impossible to say exactly what a court may impose in a particular case but the chart shows the maximum penalty for each offence.

Bear in mind also that conviction for a drink driving offence will affect the cost of your car insurance and may mean that you are prevented from travelling to some countries.

General nature of offence Max prison/fine Disqualification
Causing death by carelsss or inconsiderate driving while under the influence of drink or drugs
14 years prison
unlimited fine
2 years min driving ban + extended retest before licence returned
Driving or attempting to drive when unfit to drive through drink or drugs 6 months prison
£5,000 fine
Min 1 year
Driving or attempting to drive with excess alcohol in breath/blood/urine 6 months prison
£5,000 fine
Min 1 year
Failing to provide a specimen of breath, blood or urine for analysis or laboratory test 6 months prison
£5,000 fine
Min 1 year
Being in charge with excess alcohol in breath/blood/urine or while unfit through drink or drugs 3 months prison
£2,500 fine
Possible

 

(Page updated 16 November 2015)


* Generally, for an excuse to be considered it must relate to a physical or mental inability to provide the sample.