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Penalty for Drink Driving UK – A Guide to Potential Sentencing

You cannot drive a vehicle when you’re drunk at any time. If you do, you could get in significant legal trouble and could even go to prison. Despite this, there are still some people who are confused about how much alcohol they can drink before driving. Some people might think that they are fine to drive even after having a few drinks because they don’t feel drunk, but this is an incredible risk, while the law allows you to consume a certain amount of alcohol before driving, it is likely that you will be over the legal limit long before you feel drunk.

Why is Drink Driving So Dangerous?

Driving safely requires you to be aware of what is happening around you, keep a clear head, and react to dangerous situations straight away. However, when you have drunk alcohol before you drive, this can lead to tiredness, impaired vision, delayed reactions, poor decision making and out of control emotions. Driving while drunk is incredibly dangerous because it affects your ability to drive safely at a mental, physical and emotional level. Even if you still feel sober, you may still be unfit to drive as the alcohol is affecting you in unnoticeable ways. This is why the legal limit is set significantly lower than the point at which most people feel drunk and is also why it is better to abstain from drinking alcohol altogether when driving.

What are the Legal Alcohol Consumption Limits for Driving in the UK?

Driving over the limit is a serious crime in the UK and so it is very important that you know what these limits are. The amount of alcohol in your system can be tested through your blood, breath and urine.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the alcohol limits are:

Blood: 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood

Breath: 35mcg/100ml

Urine: 107mg/100ml

In Scotland, the limits are even stricter:

Blood: 50mg/100ml

Breath: 22mcg/100ml

Urine: 67mg/100ml

The way you react to alcohol consumption depends on various factors such as your age, health, weight, frequency of drinking, and how effective your body is at processing alcohol. For the majority of people, however, staying within these limits will mean not consuming more than two pints of beer, three standard measures of spirits or one large glass of normal strength wine.

driving under the influence

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Important UK Drink Driving Statistics

When looking at national road statistics, it is better to consider pre-pandemic numbers when both vehicle use and alcohol consumption were at “normal” levels. In just 2019, the number of people killed on UK roads as a result of drink driving was around 260. This was an increase of 20% on the 2018 numbers.

In fact of all incidents on the road which lead to fatality or serious injury, half are now thought to be the result of drink driving. With the situation worsening every year, the problem must be addressed or we will continue to see horrific avoidable tragedies.

UK Drink Driving Sentencing Guidelines

The sentence you will receive for drink driving will be affected by various factors explained later. However, there are guidelines that judges will consider based on the levels of alcohol in your system.

In England and Wales, these sentencing guidelines are:

  • Between 35mcg alcohol/100ml breath and 59mcg/100ml- A recommended Band C fine of up to £500); a maximum 56-day driving ban.
  • Between 59mcg/100ml and 80mcg/100ml – A recommended Band B fine of up to £1,000; up to six months imprisonment; a ban to be decided by the court; potential re-test.
  • Between 80mcg/100ml and 112mcg/100ml – A recommended Band A fine of up to £2,500; a minimum three-year licence endorsement.
  • More than 112mcg/100ml – A recommended Band A fine of up to £2,500; minimum 7-day prison term; a minimum one-year prison sentence if there was a fatality; re-test.
  • In excess of 400mcg – An automatic three-year licence endorsement; a minimum two-year prison sentence if there was a fatality; a minimum four-year driving disqualification.

Potential Legal Penalties if You Cause Death or Injury by Drink Driving

If you are found guilty of causing death or injury as a result of driving over the legal alcohol limit, the penalties can be very severe. While there are mitigating factors (see next paragraph) these penalties may involve:

  • A lengthy prison sentence – There is a maximum prison sentence of fourteen years if you are convicted of causing death by drink driving. For a conviction of causing injury by drink driving, the sentence is five years.
  • A substantial fine – Drink driving fines are unlimited and are decided based on the unique circumstances of your offence and your financial capabilities. Drink driving incidents cause a huge amount of financial damage, and you can expect a fine of many hundreds of thousands of pounds.
  • A long driving disqualification – Disqualifications are also decided based on the circumstances of your offence, but if your drink driving leads to a fatality, you can expect a lengthy driving ban. There is no upper limit to this ban, but it may be the case that you serve a fourteen-year custodial sentence for causing death by drink driving and are still disqualified when you come out of prison. In cases where somebody has been injured but not killed, the court may decide on a shorter disqualification which may also be dependent on you taking a driving course or similar actions.
  • A court-ordered vehicle seizure – In addition to the above penalties, the court may choose to seize your vehicle and fit it with an alcohol detecting ignition. This means that you will need to breathe into the device in order to start the car and if you are over the limit, you will be unable to drive.
  • Civil Proceedings – If someone is injured or has died due to your drink driving, that person or their family may also decide to start civil proceedings against you. This could result in you being ordered to pay significant compensation to pay for the damage caused by your actions.
  • Driving Licence and Criminal Record – As well as some or all of the above, you may also receive points on your driving licence, increased car insurance rates, and a hugely damaging criminal record which could affect your ability to get a job.

Police drink driving breathalyser

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What Factors are Considered During Sentencing?

If you are found guilty of drink driving, the court will look at every circumstance and factor relating to your offence when deciding on your ultimate sentencing.

These may include:

  • The levels of alcohol in your system – As noted above, there are certain sentencing guidelines that the court will consider based on the levels of alcohol in your system when you are tested by the police.
  • First-time/repeat offences – If you are a repeat offender, the court is more likely to give you a harsher sentence because they will deem you to have had enough chances to change your behaviour. On the other hand, if this is your first offence, the court may decide to be more lenient and give you a chance to learn from the experience.
  • A genuine show of remorse – If the court believes that you have genuine remorse for your actions, they may also decide to treat you less severely when it comes to your sentencing. Evidence that you are remorseful may include pleading guilty, assisting the police with the investigation, seeking help for alcohol addiction or stopping at the scene of the accident and being the one to call the emergency services.
  • The impact caused by your drink driving – If your drink driving has resulted in injury or death then you will likely receive a more severe sentence even if you are a first time offender or show genuine remorse. This is because the court will need to consider the harm caused to your victims and the justice that they deserve when determining your sentence.

The Importance of Legal Representation in Drink Driving Cases

If you are facing drink driving charges, you need to hire an experienced motoring lawyer to represent you in the case. Our lawyers have all the skills and knowledge to help prepare your case and advise you about the best course of action to take. They will be able to gather the right evidence, help you with your statements and ensure that you have everything necessary to present your case in court.

The seriousness of a drink driving case can be an incredibly difficult time but your lawyer will be able to shoulder some of the emotional stress. They will guide and assist you through every step of the process and help explain exactly what to expect from the trial.

Most importantly, an experienced motoring lawyer will maximise your chance for a favourable sentence. For first time offenders, a top legal team may be able to convince the court that it was a one-off incident that will never happen again. When interviewing potential lawyers to represent you, ask them about their experience in representing clients in similar circumstances so that you can choose a legal team with a great record.

Factors Which May Result in a Sentence Reduction

There are a number of factors that your lawyers may be able to successfully argue in order to reduce your sentence. This may include:

  • You pleaded guilty immediately.
  • You have a problem with alcohol addiction.
  • You are a first time offender.
  • Nobody was killed or injured during the incident.
  • You were drink driving at a time or place where there was a reduced risk to other road users or pedestrians i.e. on the motorway at 2 AM rather than near a school at 9 AM.
  • You were just slightly over the limit.

How Long Will a Drink Driving Conviction Remain on Your Record?

Drink driving convictions remain on UK records for eleven years, and this is true whether you were convicted in the UK or abroad. Unlike other offences, however, a conviction for drink driving alone (i.e. nobody was killed or injured) will not usually be shown on a standard criminal record background check so it won’t affect your chances of getting a job or a home. However, the conviction will be seen by insurance providers so it is likely to affect your ability to get affordable rates. Any disqualifications you receive before the age of 21 will stay on the DVLA record for life. After five years or after your time in prison is served, all drink driving convictions are considered spent (even though they will technically remain on your record for eleven years).

Contact Caddick Davies Solicitors today
Send us a message or call us on 0333 443 2366 for advice about a drink driving charge

How to Avoid a Drink Driving Conviction

Obviously, the easiest way to avoid a drink driving conviction is to refrain from consuming alcohol whenever you are planning to drive. Some people get into the habit of drink driving, especially when they are “only having a couple” but this is a dangerous habit. Instead, take public transport after a night out, or split a taxi with your friends. You can also take it in turns to be the one who doesn’t drink and drives everyone else home.

Final Thoughts

Drink driving can be incredibly dangerous and this is why the penalty for drink driving in the UK is so serious. If you are charged with drink driving, it is so important that you contact a specialist motoring lawyer to help you with your case. There are a number of circumstances that a court may consider when deciding on your sentence, and an experienced lawyer will know how to present evidence of those circumstances to give you the best chance of a lighter sentence. If there was no injury or death caused by your actions, you may be lucky enough to only receive a fine or disqualification, but for more serious incidents, there can be lengthy prison terms if you are found guilty.

Contact Caddick Davies Solicitors today
Send us a message or call us on 0333 443 2366 for advice about a drink driving charge


Motoring Lawyer at Caddick Davies Solicitors
Caddick Davies is recognised as one of England and Wales’ leading motoring law firms, offering specialist Speeding Solicitors, Drink Driving Solicitors & Dangerous Driving Solicitors.We provide advice and representation on all motoring offences including speeding, the avoidance of disqualification on penalty points or “totting up” (exceptional hardship), driving without due care and attention (careless driving), dangerous driving, drink driving, as well as a range of services related to medical revocation of a driving licence.
Neil Davies

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