How long after drinking can I drive?

Last updated by on January 25th, 2023 and verified by The Parkers Team

Most of us know that drinking and driving don’t mix, but what about the morning after?

Latest figures from the Department of Transport reveal that, in 2018, 580 drink-drive accidents took place between 6am and 9am – suggesting drivers were still feeling the effects from the night before. So how soon, is too soon when it comes to getting back behind the wheel?

Drink driving penalties

If you’re caught driving (or attempting) to drive while over the limit you could face six months in prison, an unlimited fine and a driving ban. You could also face the same penalties if you refuse to take a breath test.

Drivers found guilty of causing death through drunk driving can expect:

  • Up to 14 years in prison
  • A two-year driving ban
  • An unlimited fine
  • Up to 11 penalty points which could stay on your licence for up to 11 years

It’s a sobering fact that more than 1,850 people were killed on UK roads in 2019 while the total number of casualties and fatalities rose by 4% from the previous year.

Drink driving a car

Is drink driving a criminal offence?

Yes – if you’re charged with drink driving your case will be heard in a criminal court. If you’re convicted, you’ll end up with a criminal record as well as penalty points – find out more by visiting the Official Government page for endorsement codes or in our guide to driving offence codes.

What are the drink-drive limits?

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the drink-drive limits are:

  • 35 micrograms per 100 millilitres(ml) of breath
  • 80 milligrams (mg) per 100ml of blood
  • 107mg per 100ml of urine

The current drink-live limit works out at around four units for men – roughly two pints of normal strength beer. For women, it’s about three units which is just over a pint or a large glass of regular strength wine.

The limits in Scotland are slightly lower and more in line with the rest of Europe:

  • 22 micrograms per 100ml of breath
  • 50mg per 100ml of blood
  • 67mg per 100ml of urine

For more detailed advice and information on the effects of alcohol on driving, read our guide to drink driving limits in the UK or visit the Official Government Drink Drive Limit page.

What is a unit of alcohol and why is alcohol measured like this?

The system of measuring alcohol in units, was introduced in 1987 so that people could work out how much they were drinking. A unit is 10ml of pure alcohol (8g), for a rough idea of how units relate to actual drinks:

  • Half a pint of 3.8% ABV (alcohol by volume) lager is 1.1 units
  • A pint of 3.8% ABV lager is 2.2 units
  • A 660ml bottle of 3.8% ABV lager is 2.5 units
  • A small 125ml glass of 11% ABV wine is 1.4 units
  • A 250ml glass of 11% ABV wine is 2.8 units
  • A 750ml bottle of 11% ABV wine is 8.2 units

More information about the number of units in your drink can be found at NHS.UK, Alcohol units or to get an idea of the number of units you’re drinking then take a look at Drinkaware’s unit and calorie calculator.

When can I drive after drinking the night before?

In very general terms, the average adult can process one unit of alcohol per hour, but alcohol levels can continue to rise in your bloodstream up to three hours after your last drink. Our sister site have tested the Goverment’s times against their own, take a look here.

In reality, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how soon after drinking you can drive because the length of time it takes for your body to process alcohol depends on lots of different factors

– for example:

  • your sex
  • age
  • weight
  • what you’ve eaten

A very approximate guide would be to give yourself an hour per unit of alcohol before driving. For example, if you’ve had a glass of wine worth 2.8 units, you should wait for about three hours before getting behind the wheel. Similarly, having a couple of pints (totalling 4.4 units) would mean you need to wait five hours before driving.

In practical terms, this means there’s no set rule about how soon you can drive again. So, if you’re going out for a few drinks and need to drive the next morning, think about choosing drinks with a lower ABV or alternating them with soft ones.

Drinking and driving

When did drink driving become illegal?

Drinking and driving became illegal in 1967 when the limit of 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood was set. Government records show that while drink-drive casualties have dramatically fallen since records started in 1979, the numbers have started to creep back up:

  • Number of casualties caused by drink driving in 1979 was 31,430
  • Lowest number of drink-drive casualties recorded in 2014 (8,210)
  • Drink-drive casualties in 2015 were 8,470
  • Drink-drive casualties in 2016 were 9,040

How does drink driving affect my insurance?

A conviction for drink driving can have a dramatic impact on your insurance. Not only is your premium likely to be significantly higher than before, you could struggle to get cover in the first place.

For peace of mind, some drivers are opting for handheld breathalysers you can use at home. That means you can test yourself before you drive and is a far less costly method than the fine you’ll receive, should you get caught over the limit. You can find our most highly recommended breathalyser here.

If you’re concerned about finding cover because of your driving history, our guide to convicted driver insurance can help you find what you need. Alternatively, if you’d like to get a quote you can do that online here or if you prefer you can call a member of the team on0330 022 8814.

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