Drink-driving awareness comes to the fore around Christmas and New Year, but while the overall number of deaths from drink-driving is decreasing, the proportion of motorists getting caught for being over the limit the morning after a festive party is on the rise.
Department for Transport (DfT) statistics show that ‘morning after’ offences accounted for 13.82% of all drink-driving offences 10 years ago, but that figure has now exceeded 20%.
The figures suggest that some of the basic warnings concerning drink-driving aren’t always being heeded. “People think that going to bed is the same as pressing a reset button,” explains Hunter Abbott, managing director of Alcosense, a manufacturer of breathalysers.
Research from the Think! anti-drink-driving campaign supports this. It reports that around 5500 people are failing breath tests between 6am and midday every year.
The new figures show that 58% of people who have four or more drinks on a night out sometimes drive the following morning, but that only one third of people are aware they could still be over the limit.
One of the challenges facing motorists is the fact that alcohol affects different people in different ways.
“A number of factors can dictate the effect of alcohol and the speed at which your body can absorb it, including your weight, gender, the type of alcoholic drink you’ve consumed and whether you’ve eaten beforehand,” says Abbott. “If you drink on an empty stomach, your body treats alcohol just like water and draws it straight into the bloodstream.”
As a general rule, one unit of alcohol can be broken down by a healthy person’s liver each hour, but this is highly dependent on physical make-up and metabolism. Additionally, the level of alcohol in the bloodstream can continue to increase for up to 90 minutes after the last drink, a factor that can leave some drivers assuming they feel capable of driving when they are in fact over the limit.
England’s drink-drive limit is 35 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath. In December 2014, Scotland’s limit was lowered to 22 microgrammes.
Data from local and regional police forces suggests that the number of prosecutions from drink-driving offences committed in Scotland has fallen by 12.5% in the year since the new limit was introduced. In the rest of the UK, which adheres to the higher limit, prosecutions have fallen by 6.6%
The lower limit, it seems, is discouraging more Scots from drinking any alcohol before driving.
The higher limit adopted by the rest of the UK leaves more of a grey area, where many drivers assume they can have a couple of drinks and still remain within the legal limit. This isn’t always the case and is a misconception that the latest Think! drink-driving awareness campaign sets out to put right.
The UK’s legal limit is generous by the standards of most European nations. Abbott supports a lower limit being introduced in the rest of the UK. “We definitely need to look at lowering the limit," he says. "All the statistics point that way and it would be good for everybody.”
While a person driving at the Scottish legal limit is five times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than a sober motorist, driving at the higher English limit increases that risk to 13 times more likely according to data sourced from the Pacific Institute of Research.
When a driver is pulled over by the police and asked to undergo a breath test, it is carried out with handheld preliminary breath test (PBT) equipment. The reading on the equipment is accurate to within 5%; a driver can’t be prosecuted using this kit.