Drink Driving: Did you know Scotland has a lower legal limit?

Scotland has a lower legal alcohol limit than the rest of the UK

Drink Driving: Did you know Scotland has a lower legal limit?

Drink Driving: Did you know Scotland has a lower legal limit? https://wvl.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/Scotland-alcohol-featured.jpg 660 300 Anthony Anthony https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/a9c4089fd91833b9d9ac3cd2423e0fcb?s=96&d=mm&r=g

On 5th December 2014 the drink driving laws in Scotland were revised to lower the legal limit from 80mg alcohol per 100ml blood, to 50mg. This significant reduction brings Scotland in line with most other European countries, leaving England, Wales and Northern Ireland sharing the highest legal limit with Malta, and was a decisive step towards saving lives and making Scotland’s roads safer.

Level of alcohol England, Wales, Northern Ireland Scotland
Micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath 35 22
Milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood 80 50

Has it worked?

Data since the change has been very positive. The prediction was that without any change in behaviour, convictions would increase by a third. But remarkably, there was no peak in convictions (showing drivers’ drinking behaviours to have changed) and the number of drink driving offences in fact fell during the first quarter after the change.

The change wasn’t met with widespread approval though as the Bank of Scotland reported the country’s modified drinking habits to be partly responsible for an observed economic downturn – bar sales dropping by up to 60 per cent in the two months following the introduction of the new limit, with some likening it to prohibition. Awareness campaigns stated that the only way to be sure of being under the limit was not to drink at all if you were driving, and the nation evidently took the message to heart.

Will England follow?

Whether England will follow suit is another matter: the Department For Transport said this February that they have no plans to bring the limit down to 50mg. Brake, the charity for road safety, are in favour of a limit as low as 20mg – as close to a total ban as is practicable without penalising those with trace amounts in their blood – also stating the only safe amount to drink being ‘no drink’. But on Radio 4’s Today programme, a representative for the pub trade made the point that the majority of fatalities are caused by drivers well over the limit – a ‘hardcore minority’ – and that lowering the limit would penalise everyday motorists and raise issues of personal liberty.

Historically, imposing a limit has saved lives. Since the introduction of the breathalyser in the 60s and the 1967 Road Safety Act, where the 80mg limit was originally set there has been an improvement in road safety and reduction in the number of drink-drive related deaths: 1,640 deaths in 1979 down to 230 in 2012, the new data showing that lowering it helps build on that success.

In real terms

What do the levels mean in real terms? For the average man, a 50mg limit would mean they could consume just under a pint of beer or a large glass of wine and for women, half a pint of beer or a small glass of wine according to forensic toxicologist Dr Hazel Torrance. In fact, there have been two recent cases where drivers claiming to have drunk only a single pint were each fined £450 and banned from driving for a year.

“Just one drink can put you over, it’s as tight as that,” said Dumfries Sheriff, Scott Pattinson.

Data shows that exceeding the 50mg limit puts you six times more likely to die in a road accident. And given it takes an average body an hour to process 1 unit, after a night out, you could still be over the limit the next morning. Sleep, coffee and cold showers don’t help you sober up – it’s all down to time.


Should you be caught and convicted, the penalties, costs and impacts can be life-changing, from imprisonment, unlimited fines, a driving ban, plus the everyday effects such as increased insurance costs, having to declare your conviction to employers, and even having restrictions on traveling to countries such as the USA.

Causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink can result in 14 years’ imprisonment, and multiple offences can place you on a high risk offenders scheme.

The Institute of Advanced Motorists calculate that a drink drive conviction could cost between £20,000 – £50,000 as a result of fines, solicitors fees, increase in car insurance and loss of job.

Parliament, and public, opinion

In spite of the data from the Scottish changes, the English government seems confident with the deterrents currently in place here with ministers ruling out introducing any change in the short or medium term:

“Britain continues to have some of the safest roads in the world because we crack down on those who break the law, and the government believes rigorous enforcement and serious penalties for drink-drivers are a more effective deterrent than changing the drink-driving limit,” said Andrew Jones, transport minister.

“We continue to look at the best ways to improve road safety but the drink-driving limit for England and Wales strikes an important balance between safety and personal freedom.”

Wherever you stand on the issue, the fact remains that any amount of alcohol impairs our ability to drive and the safest option is simply not to drink – an opinion held by the majority in a recent survey:

Business Driving

If you’re setting an alcohol limit for your employees as part of an alcohol policy, many european countries set their professional drivers’ limit to 9 micrograms of alcohol per 100ml breath – a level recommended by manufacturers of in-car breathalysers – an essential piece of kit for anyone who drives with work. (Also worth noting that it’s compulsory to carry one in your vehicle when in France.)

Be mindful

Whilst English law relies on its deterrent penalties, it puts its trust in us all to drink responsibly and to make careful judgement calls when driving may be involved. If positive data continues to come from countries like Scotland with lower legal limits, it’s likely English law will eventually change. Until then, be mindful: if you’re heading north, a legal pint south of the border will likely tip you over the new limit as soon as you cross over onto Scottish soil.

Drink responsibly, drive safely.