Drive safely by being drink-free this festive season, says Swanswell

23 December 2013

With a week of celebrations round the corner, the national recovery charity – which wants to achieve a society free from problem alcohol and drug use – is reminding people about the risks of having alcohol before getting behind the wheel.

Last year, 280 people were killed in drink drive-related accidents in the UK, accounting for around one in six of all road deaths – an increase of 17% compared to the previous year (240 deaths in 2011 - Institute of Alcohol Studies).

While there are strict limits in the UK around alcohol use before driving, it’s not possible to say how much someone can drink and still stay below the limit.

Alcohol affects people in different ways and many factors influence how quickly alcohol’s processed by the body such as weight; age; sex; and metabolism; as well as the type and amount someone’s drinking; what they’ve recently eaten; and stress levels at the time.

Debbie Bannigan, Swanswell’s Chief Executive, said: ‘Drinking any amount of alcohol before getting behind the wheel will have an impact on your ability to drive safely.

Judgement and reaction times will be affected, and the risk of causing serious injury or even death is dramatically increased – not just for themselves, but for passengers, other road users and pedestrians too.

So the only way to ensure you don’t ruin the festive season for you and others is to avoid drinking alcohol if you’re getting behind the wheel.’

Driving the morning after a night of drinking could also be putting lives at risk because people could still be over the limit, particularly if they’ve had a large number of units - and there’s no easy way of knowing whether it’s safe to get behind the wheel.      

More than half of young drivers and over a third of older motorists drive first thing in the morning after heavy drinking the previous night, according to research from road safety charity Brake – many don’t realise they could still be over the legal limit (Drinkaware).

Alcohol is removed from the blood at a rate of around one unit an hour. If someone had six pints of 4% lager (at around 2.3 units a pint), it would take at least 14 hours to clear their system – yet people are often driving only a few hours after finishing their last drink.

If people are choosing to drink alcohol on a night out and are planning to drive the next morning, the advice is to drink within recommended daily limits; alternate an alcoholic drink with a soft drink; have lower strength alcoholic drinks; and stop drinking well before the end of the night, so the body can process the alcohol before the morning.

However, it’s still difficult to know exactly when it’s safe to drive the next day. Hand-held breathalysers are becoming an increasingly popular way of helping drivers know when it’s safe to drive the following morning.

Debbie added: ‘In some countries, such as France, it’s a legal requirement to carry a self-test breathalyser in your car, which will encourage drivers to ensure they are alcohol-free before getting behind the wheel.

While it’s not currently law to carry such devices in the UK, we think it’s an inexpensive and useful tool to have in your vehicle anyway, so you’re not putting lives at risk by driving over the legal limit.’

Drink-driving
The current legal alcohol limit in the UK is:

  • 35 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath
  • 80 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood
  • 107 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine

Depending on the drink-drive offence, penalties can include:

  • imprisonment
  • large fine
  • driving ban
  • extended driving test
  • Drink Drive Rehabilitation Scheme course like those run by Swanswell (if the court has offered it to you)

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