Drink driving limit UK – top 10 interesting facts

When growing up my Dad would have many pints of beer after being in a furnace all night. This was 5am and the pubs were officially closed! No-one thought anything of it including the local police. Drink driving limit UK has come a long way.

They were often at the bar to keep a friendly eye. People drove to pubs, that’s what they did and it was a thriving industry.

Drink driving has killed many people and yet it took many years to get a system in place that was deemed accurate and safe in the UK. In fact, it’s a good example of how an alcohol dominated world keeps the upper hand for a while.

Gradually from horse carriages to those “mechanical things”, on the road stuff changes, from just an average drinker making an error of judgment, to rehabilitation and insurance. Wow, it’s a very different world.

Here are my top ten moments that changed my Dad’s world and quite right so! Just don’t tell Santa!

Number 10

1872 Licensing Act – Drunk in charge of a horse!

Yep that is right if you had a horse and you were drunk in 1872 it would have overnight become a problem for you. Not only horses either it became an offense to be drunk driving carriages, horses, cattle and steam engines!!

Not this may seem odd to us now but at the time it was how people traveled and transported things. Plus there was no alcohol free beer as such. Many a bar would see you pull your horse and cart over then stumble out a few hours later.

If you went up in front of the courts for doing so after getting caught you would have been out-of-pocket not more than 40 shilling.

For reference, in today ‘s money 40 shilling is worth around 12 pence! Still, in those days it was big money and it could be seen as one of the first early deterrents.

Now the court could decide if hard labor and prison was also in order so you had to be polite and nice. If you think about it as a deterrent it was the only thing available to you as many people would not dare to take the keys off you, and if it was a horse then it would be difficult never mind a steam engine.

Number Nine

1925 Criminal Justice Act – the big one

Now this is probably where the real stuff around drink-driving started to happen.

Back in 1925 it was an offense to be found drunk in charge of a vehicle on a road.

Now in those days with are talking “mechanical machines that move”.

However, this was the gateway to the world taking seriously the fact that with anything of this nature the damage to other people in public spaces could be extreme and cost lives if being operated while drunk.

The punishment increased to around 50 pounds so big money even now really.

You might also have gone to prison for 4 months or fewer. The interesting thing here was that if you were disqualified from driving this could take you off the road for at least 12 months.

Some things don’t change.

Number Eight

In 1930 under the Road Traffic Act you could not drive or be in charge of your car after alcohol. To quote, it became an offense to drive “under the influence of drink or drugs to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the vehicle”.

What is interesting is that there was no limit to guide people. So back to my Dad, the two and a half pints and your OK rule at this point would have been meaningless.

Number Seven

In 1960 “attempting” was mentioned in the new road traffic act. So it was not just about driving it was about attempting to drive as well.

So that moment when you get in the car and you are too drunk to turn the key in the ignition. It’s like a comedy movie if it was not really funny.

Again there was no legal limit but clearly drugs were on the rise so they were chucked into the mix.

It does seem that interpretation is everything at this point. It’s very subjective in nature!

Number Six – 1962

Guess what? Still, no legal limit but another act in law that came into force. It was :

  • 1962 Road Traffic Act (know as the Marples Act so named after a politician )

So now you could not drive, attempt to drive or be in “charge” of those motoring devices if your “ability to drive properly was for the time being impaired”.

So how were they going to measure this, it seems like all words and no action !

Well blood, your pee and breath all came into the equation for working out how much alcohol was in your system. Now here is the mind bender.

I could refuse to give you a sample as it was not an offense however if I did not without reasonable justification it could be used against me especially if there was no valid reason. What!

So it feels like a damned if you do and damned if you don’t as the prosecution could use it as evidence against you. So no wonder people were confused at a time when many people thought it was still OK to have a few too many and drive.

Pubs would still open at 5am against the law at this point and have off duty police enjoying a pint at the bar after their night shift! That was the culture.

Before now successful drink-driving prosecutions depended heavily upon the “subjective tests” and observations of so called ‘police medical experts’ and other aspects such as witness statements alongside anything you said in your defense.

Like it wasn’t me your honor!

Always Know Your Limits with Drink Aware


Number Five

1964 What’s the risk really?

A study with a snappy title called “Accidents, Alcohol and Risk” funded by the United States public health service and the Licensed Beverage Industries of New York was carried out in 1964.

The study showed that 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood was the level at which the chances of being involved in a crash rose sharply for most drivers.

Like drinkers would get out their measurement sticks!

Read my review of a breath tester at home here

Number Four – Here comes BAC

BAC is a key measure of alcohol but be aware your liver takes the time it needs to metabolize alcohol. It takes about an hour to do 1 alcoholic unit. There is nothing you can do to change that.

However, alcohol blood levels can vary in people with different weight, food they have eaten and type of drinks sometimes.

BAC stands for alcohol blood concentration.

So it was finally in the 1967 Road Safety Act still before I was born this really came into full force. I probably grew up with this awareness from my parents given my Dad would have a few pints after working in a hot furnace overnight.

This brought in what we would now be know as the maximum “Legal Drink Drive Limit” and amazingly it was only brought in officially around 1967.

The limit was set at a maximum blood alcohol concentration of 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood or the equivalent 107 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine. So anything above this and you were well and truly nicked.

However, the irony is that as we know alcohol can affect us in all sorts of ways so you could be really drunk but if your measure was OK you were OK. Crazy really.

Also, what changed this year is that you had to give a specimen otherwise it would break the law. There was no way around this now. You had to give a test and good luck in finding a reason not to!

In this year the go ahead to develop the “at the side of the road measurement device” was given approval by the Queen to go ahead to be looked at and implemented.

Those famous words of a police officer saying “blow harder” when you were out of breath with the stress and nerves was just around the corner and I had not even been drinking but you feel guilty regardless!

It was as late as 1968 when the First Breathalyzer Type was approved

There was a heavy marketing campaign and despite this it needed to be tested and training introduced but it was the final piece of the jigsaw for drinkers who wanted to take their chances on the road.

In fact published stats are very impressive in terms of accidents even at this early stage.

Road traffic accidents involving alcohol dropped from 25% to 15% in the first year. This meant:

  • 1,152 fewer recorded deaths,
  • 11,177 fewer serious injuries
  • 28,130 fewer slight injuries caused by road traffic accidents.

However, it was not really till as late as 1981 that the next stage happened.

Click the pic for a great selection of alcohol free options from my affiliate partner – drive safe alternatives

Number Three

Evidential Breath Testing was introduced in the 1981 Traffic Act.

Now things were really starting to get clearer so it was stated that 35 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath (the equivalent of 80mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood) yes we are back to BAC was to be the maximum.

Any less and you were going to be charged and arrested.

Again it was early days and there was still a great deal of concern that the tests were not accurate plus training of police officers. So yet again the law had to move with public concern.

Let’s back it up a bit. That will help!

So let’s say in 1981 you were given a breath test on the side of the road and were not happy with it. Let’s say a reading of up to 50 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath or even less? What could you do?

Well now if you wanted you could ask within your rights under law to provide a blood or pee sample instead. ( The officer could decide which one to go for though)

So with that back up, the breath system of measuring people began to be more confident in people’s head instead of course of not drinking in the first place!

Number Two

In 1983 Breath Testing was put firmly on the map with a new machine that was seen as very accurate and probably the reason why this method is still around today.

Its a hand device that could be held on the side of a road and delivered results that stood up in a court of law.

Despite being controversial this was held up as the best gold standard that was going to be the norm moving forward.

In this year the ball started rolling for things like high risk offenders so extra checks through DVLA ( how you get your license etc), there was also down the track rehabilitation scheme and of course it led to better insurance premiums.

If you think about this journey from the 60’s into the nineties it took rather a long time just as speed fining and dangerous driving courses are now part of the norm.

At risk offenders are taken off the road.

The journey from horse and cart to a fully trusted system took a long time and put safety at the heart of it.

Number One – Let’s take things even further.

Now let’s fast track to 2014 in Scotland. I was working not far from the border at this point and this really did make people think. So in Scotland they reduced the limit at which you can drive to 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood so your BAC. So in government papers it states

  • 22 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath; or
  • 50 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood; or
  • 67 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of urine.

The sponsor Kenny MacAskill MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament) said

“This is about improving road safety, we know that alcohol impairment does kick in mostly at 50mg. That’s the level where it’s quite clear that driving is impaired.”

What are the options now?

Simply don’t drink and drive and as in the Scottish equation countries all over the world have different laws.

With the choice of alcohol free drinks and even “driving safe labels” on bottles of beer and wine, taxis and better public transport especially in cities there is now no excuse for putting people’s lives and yours at risk.

For me this is key and when I read some of your comments the amount of people who have said one drink can affect them when for others it can be several backs up the argument.

The biggest issue is often the morning after. Your blood alcohol level may change but how your liver metabolizes it does not. So do you really do not want to take a chance when there are now so many alternatives out there?

It seems a far cry from the stories of steel working drinking at 5am in the morning then driving home after a long shift.

From the local bobby giving someone a lift if they thought they had had too much.

I often wonder what would have happened if my Dad had been breathalyzed, would they have put a bus on for everyone who lost their license?

If you had asked for an alcohol free drink after coming off shift you would have been laughed at and thumped.

How times have changed! Plus alcohol free beer, what’s that? Check my review of my favorites here.


What do you think about drink driving limits UK?  Many people have been killed on the road as a result of alcohol. Would you switch to an alcohol free version and would that be OK?

Do you still have one and hope for the best? What are the rules and culture of drinking and driving where you live? I would love to know what you think and I always respond.


4 thoughts on “Drink driving limit uk – top 10 moments”

  1. It took time to have the laws caring for the drivers. Because that is really what the during driving regulation has a goal. It keeps the driver and everybody else around him/her safe. I just wish that countries like mine will catch up with such regulations and be strict in applying them.  

    Locally here we only have one brand of alcohol-free beer. I am quite surprised to see a long list of all the best non-alcoholic beer from Europe.


    • Hey thanks for your comment on drink driving limit UK. You are so right its not just about the driver but the people on the roads and elsewhere. I think your comment about the range of alcohol free beers is really interesting. It is going to take some time and even here in the UK it can be a challenge especially when you are out and about. I really appreciate you taking time out to comment and I hope your country develops its law to protect everyone soon. It take will power at a political level. I wish you all the best, Phil

  2. You just showed me information on how the whole rule about drinking and driving came about and also how it has been able to change your day completely from doing that. I really like this and I think that the development of the rule here jn the jk has been perfect. That’s really nice. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hey Jackie, it was an interesting article to write  and a long journey when you think about it. Thanks for so much for leaving a comment. I really appreciate it, Phil


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