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New drink drive limit – how much is too much?

With effect from 5 December, the drink drive limit in Scotland is being reduced from 80mg in every 100ml of blood to 50mg in every 100ml of blood.  What does this mean in practice?

How much is too much?  The difficulty is that the same amount of alcohol can affect people differently depending on a variety of factors (weight, age, sex, metabolism to name a few).  There is no way to speed up how quickly alcohol leaves your body.  Eating, sleeping or drinking coffee will not impact the body’s ability to process alcohol.  These are all myths.  As a general rule, the body processes alcohol at a rate of 1 unit per hour.

What is a unit of alcohol? Previous thinking was that a unit was a nip of spirit, a half pint of beer or a glass of wine.  This is rarely, if ever, the case these days with stronger products and larger measures.  For example, a unit for a glass of wine is based on 125ml of wine at 8% ABV.  Many wines are now stronger than 8% ABV and measures of 175ml or 250ml are not uncommon.  A 250ml glass of wine at 14% ABV would be 3.5 units!

The only way to be sure that you are below the limit is not to drink at all when driving.  You can buy breathalyser test kits relatively inexpensively.  In fact, it is law in France that you must carry an approved breathalyser in your car at all times.

There is even more risk of “morning after” convictions with the reduced limit.  Employers should make sure that their employees are aware of the change in the law, especially with office party season fast approaching.  It is also a good time to check that your policies and/or handbook are clear and robust in relation to this matter, especially where an employee requires to drive as part of their job.  It is not only professional drivers who require to be able to drive in order to fulfil their role.

While this change brings Scotland in to line with much of the rest of Europe, it means the limit in Scotland is lower than in England, where it remains at 80mg.  So, you could be crossing the border from driving legally to illegally as you cross the border from England into Scotland!  The maximum penalty for drink driving in Scotland is 6 months imprisonment, £5,000 fine, and although the alcohol limit is coming down, there will still be a minimum driving ban of one year.

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