The dangers of drink driving at Christmas

Police check

Photo by Arkadiusz Benedykt

According to a report from the Department of Transport (2008) 8,620 road accidents occurred in 2008 when a driver was over the legal limit for alcohol, and 2,020 people were killed or seriously injured as a result. Whilst these figures are frightening, accidents involving drink driving have decreased dramatically over the past 30 years, although a lot still needs to be done to further reduce the number of drink driving-related road incidents.

In the UK, the alcohol limit for drivers is:

  • 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood;
  • 35mg per 100ml of breath; or
  • 107mg per 100ml of urine.

Unfortunately it is impossible to work out categorically how many units a person can consume before exceeding their blood alcohol content (BAC) legal limit (i.e. the percentage of alcohol in the blood), as the speed that alcohol enters the blood stream will vary dramatically depending on a number of factors, including whether a person has an empty stomach or is drinking with food over a prolonged period. Tiredness will also affect the concentration and absorption of alcohol into the blood stream.

Therefore, the key to avoiding driving over the limit is to plan ahead by choosing a designated driver before setting off, or working out how to get home using public transport or a taxi. Planning ahead is crucial to avoid the risk of simply nominating the person who has drunk the least: in this case the designated driver may still be over the legal limit.

Driving when over the legal limit can have serious implications. Not only are drink drivers putting themselves and other drivers, pedestrians or cyclists at very real danger, but they risk losing their licence and possibly their job, which can send people into a downward spiral of financial difficulties.

Employers and employees must be aware of the risks of driving or operating machinery the day after a big night out in order to avoid accidents at work. Whilst it is impossible to measure how much alcohol we can drink before reaching the BAC legal limit, the rate at which alcohol burns off is measurable: it burns off at almost precisely .016 BAC per hour (about equal to one standard drink each hour). This rate is true regardless of body size, which means that a petite female burns off alcohol at the same rate as a tall obese male.

More information on drink driving and the legal alcohol limit can be found on the Drinkaware website. A guide on drugs and alcohol in the workplace can be found on the Health for Work Adviceline website, or free guidance can be sought on the effects of alcohol on a person’s ability to work on 0800 0 77 88 44.

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