Over 10 million UK drivers get behind the wheel when knowingly over the limit

Thursday, 15 October 2015
  • Shocking statistics reveal that nearly a third (31%) of drivers that drink admit to driving when over the legal alcohol limit
  • Nearly a fifth (19%) of over 50s believe their tolerance to alcohol is higher now than when they were younger/li>
  • 1.5 million of those in their 30s2  believe they would be safe to drive after six or seven glasses of beer or wine.


New insight from insurance provider RIAS has revealed that a significant proportion of UK drivers have been taking to the roads when over the legal alcohol limit. The shocking new findings highlight the need for continued education on drinking and driving self-regulation.

Broken down further it appears that as drivers get older they get slightly wiser, but despite greater experience there are still an alarming number of UK adults driving over the limit at all ages. This appears to be a worrying theme, with more than one third (36%) of drivers under 50 that drink – equivalent to 6.5m people3 – admitting to driving over the limit. Despite a lower number of over 50 drivers that drink going over the limit, nearly one quarter (24%) still admit to driving over the limit which, at 3.6m people, is a worryingly high amount.  

Two fifths (40%) of those who have driven over the limit have encountered serious consequences as a result including losing licences, crashing or falling asleep at the wheel.


Most common consequences of driving over the limit:

Losing licence temporarily

17%; 1.7m drivers

Blurred vision

15%; 1.5m drivers

Getting lost

14%; 1.4m drivers

Falling asleep at the wheel

13%; 1.3m drivers

A minor crash

13%; 1.3m drivers

Injuring another driver

12%; 1.2m drivers


The greater experience amongst older drivers is reflected further in the fact that three quarters (77%) of those over 50 driving over the limit escaped any consequence at all compared to just half (50%) of under 50s. Almost a fifth (19%) of over 50s that drink also believe their alcohol tolerance is higher now than when they were younger meaning the over 50s in particular are at risk of complacency as the effects of ageing come into play.

While these figures remain high across all age groups, those in their 30s appear to be particularly irresponsible when it comes to drinking and driving. Just over two fifths (44%) of this age group have driven when knowingly over the limit and a considerable number have encountered serious consequences including losing their licence permanently (21%), injuring another driver (26%) and even injuring pedestrians (23%). Perhaps most worryingly of all, one fifth (20%) of drivers in their 30s that drink believe they would be safe to drive after six or seven glasses of beer or wine.


Mark Hanson, Director of Marketing at RIAS commented: “Despite extensive campaigns from the Government and other organisations highlighting the dangers of drink driving, there are a large number of people still prepared to take the risk. It is clear that those in their 30s are by far the risk taking, but drivers of all ages are taking a risk every time they drink and then get behind the wheel of their car.

“Whilst drivers over 50 have avoided the consequences some others have incurred, all drivers, whatever their age, must ensure they do not become complacent or over confident. The effects of ageing have a continued effect on driving and adding any alcohol into that mix can be very dangerous. Constant and honest self-assessment is vital for all drivers, particularly those who have many years of driving experience.”


Jackie Ballard, Chief Executive of Alcohol Concern, said: “Drink driving puts lives in danger and should never be done under any circumstances. Everyone processes alcohol differently and alcohol limits can depend on your height, age, gender, weight, and how much you’ve eaten. It’s really important to know that even if you aren’t feeling the effects of alcohol, you could still be over the limit. The safest thing is not to drink at all when you may be driving.

 “Currently the drink drive limit in England and Wales is the highest in Europe, matched only by Malta. To tackle drink driving, save lives and make roads safer, we are urging the Government to lower the drink drive limit in line with Scotland and the majority of European countries.”

For more information on the drive fit campaign visit the Drive Fit website.



Research conducted by Opinium Research among 2004 UK adults aged 18+ to a nationally representative sample between 11th-13th August 2015.

  1. 401 respondents said they have driven while knowingly over the drink drive limit. 401 / 2004 * 50,909,000 (ONS UK adult population) = 10,186,881 or 10.2 million.
  2. 61 respondents in their 30s said they would be safe to drive after six or seven glasses of beer or wine. 61 / 2004 * 50,909,000 = 1,549,625 or 1.5 million.
  3. 257 under 50 respondents said they have driven while knowingly over the drink drive limit. 257 / 2004 * 50,909,000 = 6.5 million. 144 over 50 respondents said they have driven while knowingly over the drink drive limite. 144 / 2004 * 50,909,000 = 3.6 million.
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