Drinks-driving penalties


The drink drive limit

There are strict alcohol limits for drivers, but it is impossible to say exactly how many drinks this equals - it is different for each person.

The legal alcohol limit for drivers in the UK is:

  • 35 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath
  • 80 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood
  • 107 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine
Drink-driving penalties

You could be imprisoned, banned from driving and face a fine if you’re found guilty of drink-driving.

Penalties for different offences

The following penalties may apply if you’re charged and found guilty of a drink-driving offence.

The actual penalty you get is up to the magistrates who hear your case, and depends the circumstances of your offence.

The courts may offer you to take a Drink-Drive Rehabilitation Scheme (DDRS) course if you’re banned from driving for 12 or more months.

Being in charge of a vehicle while above the legal limit or unfit through drink

You may get:

  • 3 months’ imprisonment
  • up to £2,500 fine
  • a possible driving ban
Driving or attempting to drive while above the legal limit or unfit through drink

You may get:

  • 6 months’ imprisonment
  • up to £5,000 fine
  • a driving ban for at least 1 year (3 years if convicted twice in 10 years)
Refusing to provide a specimen of breath, blood or urine for analysis

You may get:

  • 6 months’ imprisonment
  •  up to £5,000 fine
  • a ban from driving for at least 1 year
Causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink

You may get:

  • 14 years’ imprisonment
  • an unlimited fine
  • a ban from driving for at least 2 years
  • an extended driving test before your licence is returned
The High Risk Offenders Scheme

Your driving licence won’t be returned automatically at the end of a driving ban if you’re a ‘high risk offender’. You’ll only get your licence back if you pass a medical examination.

You’re a high risk offender if you:

  • were convicted of 2 drink-driving offences within 10 years
  • were driving when you were at 2.5 times or more the legal alcohol limit
  • refused to give the police a sample of breath, blood or urine to test for alcohol
  • refused to allow a sample of your blood to be tested for alcohol (eg if it was taken when you were unconscious)
Other problems you could face

A conviction for drink-driving also means:

  • your car insurance costs will increase significantly
  • if you drive for work, your employer will see your conviction on your licence
  • you may have trouble travelling to countries like the USA

Penalty points (endorsements)

1. Overview

You can be disqualified from driving if you either:

  •  are convicted of a driving offence
  • get 12 or more penalty points (endorsements) within 3 years

You’ll get a summons in the post that tells you when you must go to court.

How long disqualifications last

The court will decide how long the disqualification will last, based on how serious they think the offence is.

If you’ve 12 or more penalty points, you could be disqualified for:

  • 6 months if you get 12 penalty points or more within 3 years
  • 12 months if you get a 2nd disqualification within 3 years
  • 2 years if you get a 3rd disqualification
Disqualified for 56 days or more

If you’re disqualified for 56 days or more you must apply for a new licence before driving again.

You might also have to retake your driving test or take an extended driving test before getting your new licence. The court will tell you if you have to do this at your hearing.

Disqualified for less than 56 days

Your paper driving licence or counterpart document will be stamped by the court and given back to you. This is called ‘short period disqualification’.

You won’t need to renew your licence. The stamp shows the disqualification period and you can use the same licence again once this is over.