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How long until I’m sober enough to drive?

‘Tis the season to be jolly, and by “be jolly” we mean get trollied off our faces on alcohol. This Christmas, many motorists will face the temptation to hop behind the wheel after sinking a few shandies or to pick up the car the morning after a session, but how much alcohol is too much and how long should we wait until we’re sober enough to drive?

There is, of course, no hard and fast answer to this question, but we’ve done our best to demystify the drink-drive laws and punishments in the hope of keeping you safe.

How long does it take to sober up after a night out on the town?
How long does it take to sober up after a night out on the town?

How long until I’m sober enough to drive?

Everybody handles alcohol differently. However, research suggests if you consume 19 units of alcohol, which works out to be seven pints of strong lager or six 250ml glasses of wine, and drive your car 10 hours after having your first drink, then you’re still too boozed up to drive legally. You need an additional 5 hours in order to be sober enough. In other words, if you start a seven-pint session at 6PM then you won’t be able to drive legally until 9AM.

How much alcohol can I drink and still drive?

Unfortunately the legal drink drive limit cannot be safely converted into a certain number of units, as your personal tolerance depends on several factors; how much you weigh, your gender, your rate of metabolism, your current stress levels, whether you’ve eaten and your age. In the UK, the alcohol limit for drivers is 80 milligrammes of booze per 100 millilitres of blood, 35 microgrammes per 100 millilitres of breath or 107 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of urine.

However you can calculate, on average, how quickly a healthy liver can process one unit of alcohol (again, depending on your body mass, gender and how much you’ve eaten). On average, it takes one hour for a healthy liver to process one unit of alcohol. That means it’ll take you two hours per pint of normal-strength beer or four hours to process a pint of strong beer. A large glass of wine can take six hours for your liver to process completely.

Even a boozy christmas cake needs around half an hour of liver mulching to process the booze.

What will happen if I’m caught drinking and driving?

Don’t drop the soap. The actual penalty you’ll receive if convicted of drink driving depends on the magistrate who hears your case and the circumstances of your offence. Generally, if you’re in charge of a vehicle while above the legal limit or you’re unfit through drink you may get 3 months’ imprisonment, a fine of up to £2,500 and a possible driving ban. If you actually drive said vehicle while boozed up, you may get 6 months’ imprisonment, a fine of up to £5,000 and a driving ban lasting at least a year (3 years if convicted twice in 10 years).

What if I refuse to give a breath, urine or blood sample?

Playing hardball won’t get you anywhere, except imprisonment lasting up to six months, a £5,000 fine and a yearlong ban.

What happens if I kill someone while driving drunk?

If you’ve been particularly idiotic and taken someone’s life, you can expect up to 14 years in jail, and unlimited fine, a two-year ban (when you get out of jail) and you’ll be forced to take an extended driving test before your license is returned.

I guess I shouldn’t drink and drive at all this Christmas then?

That’d be the smart thing to do. Merry Christmas!


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