Is one drink worth the risk?

Don't run the risk

We want everyone to enjoy the festive season and to be aware that any amount of alcohol affects your ability to drive safely. There is no fool proof way of knowing how much an individual person can drink and still drive safely, or when they have reached the drink drive limit (except a Police breathalyser). The only way you can be sure your driving is not impaired by alcohol is to not drink any if you are driving. The only safe limit is a zero limit.

Each person’s tolerance to alcohol depends on a range of factors including:

  • Weight
  • Age
  • Current stress levels
  • Amount of alcohol consumed
  • Gender
  • Metabolism
  • Whether they have eaten recently

No matter how much alcohol you drink - even if it’s just one - your ability to drive safely will be affected. After just one drink your chances of being involved in a car crash could be doubled.

When driving at twice the legal alcohol limit you are at least 30 times more likely to cause a road crash than a driver who hasn’t been drinking. Over the last ten years, there have been 65 people killed on Kent’s roads as a result of drink driving. All of these deaths could have been prevented.

However, no count is kept of how many drivers crash when below the legal limit but with alcohol in their system, perhaps after ‘just’ one drink. Research has previously suggested these drivers may kill or injure as many people again as ‘drunk drivers’.

What are the consequences?

Driving or attempting to drive whilst above the legal limit or unfit through drink or drugs can lead up to a 6 month prison sentence, together with an unlimited fine and disqualification from driving for at least 12 months (3 years if convicted twice in 10 years).

Causing death by dangerous driving when under the influence of drink or drugs can lead up to 14 years’ imprisonment, together with an unlimited fine, disqualification from driving for at least 2 years and a mandatory extended driving test.

After one drink drive conviction you could pay up to 3 times more for car insurance.

So the only safe option is not to drink alcohol if you plan to drive. And remember to never offer an alcoholic drink to someone else who is intending to drive.

An example of how ‘just one drink’ can effect drivers:

Several years ago a small research study indicated that even small amounts of alcohol can impair a driver’s ability to judge safe gaps through which to drive.

A group of experienced bus drivers were split into two, with one half remaining sober, and the remaining half drinking about two units of alcohol.

Both sets of drivers were shown a gap the same size and asked if it would be possible to drive through it. The non-drinking group unanimously said NO, it was not possible to drive through the gap. The group that drank alcohol, after waiting for around 20 minutes to ensure the alcohol had been absorbed by their bodies, was asked the same question. Most said YES. These drivers were prepared to try to drive their bus through the gap 14 inches (35cm) narrower than their bus!

Altering their perceptions of what would be a safe gap and leading the drivers to give the same chance of success to more difficult tasks as they would to a ‘normal’ task illustrates that the small amount of alcohol had affected these drivers, i.e. the alcohol lead to greater risk taking, coupled with a higher opinion of their own ability.

The Stats

2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Fatal 8 10 10 3 5 5 7 5 6 6
Serious 47 54 43 28 34 32 40 48 56 68
Slight 304 301 254 197 207 216 246 244 272 269
Total 359 365 307 228 246 253 293 297 334 343

Casualty data for drink drive crashes in the last 10 years

Simply, it shows too many people being injured and killed due to drink driving. Through the campaign, we want to help reduce this toll and remind drivers that drink drive casualties are completely avoidable - no one has to drink then drive.


So you wake up, head pounding and ears still ringing - a great night indeed.

But even though the night is over, alcohol will remain in your body. So even if you feel OK to drive the next morning, you are unlikely to be safe to do so - after all, even small amounts of alcohol will slow your reactions and reduce your field of vision.

How long it takes the body to rid itself of each unit of alcohol is dependent on a variety of factors, including how healthy you are and how much you have eaten. Generally speaking, it takes 1 to 1 1/2 hours per unit you’ve drunk. Neither a cold shower nor a cup of coffee will sober you up any quicker. It just takes time.

Many drink drivers are caught the morning after. Make sure you’re not one of them - work out how many alcoholic units you’ve drunk, what time you stopped drinking and plan when you next intend to drive to be when you are likely to be alcohol free. You can’t guess whether you’re below the legal limit, so don’t try. If in doubt, don’t drive.

Approximate unit sizes:
1 Unit =

  • Half a pint of normal strength beer, lager or cider (3.5% - 4% abv)
  • 125ml glass of wine (often called a small glass of wine in a pub or restaurant - but check the size!)
  • 1 measure of spirit

Calculating units, a rough method:
A rough guide to calculating how many units in an alcoholic drink is:
The amount drunk in litres times the abv = approx units
(for example, a 500ml can of 5% lager = 0.5L x 5 = 2.5 units)

A ‘typical’ night out:
Suppose you had a night out drinking and consumed the following:
4 pints premium strength beer (5 % abv) = 10 units
5 shots of spirit = 5 units

That adds up to 15 units, so the safest option is not to expect to be alcohol free for at least 15 hours after drinking.

The Facts

  • 1 in 10 of road deaths involve a drink driver.
  • The most effective method of sobering up is waiting. Only time will reduce your body's alcohol level.

What happens when you drink

The short-term effects of consuming alcohol differ from person to person but some of the typical side-effects for a man of average build, who consumes 1-2 UNITS could include:

  • A gradual release of anxiety and tension combined with a feeling of relaxation.
  • Feelings of being more carefree and social inhibitions become relaxed; “Dutch courage” as it’s sometimes called.
  • Feeling less shy, able to circulate more freely and more inclined to be happy to take greater risks than normal.
  • As with any other drug, the actual effects very much depend on how you feel, your expectations and the environment. However, common reactions are talkativeness, cheerfulness, increased self-confidence, contentment and socibility.

After 3 UNITS (a little over 1 pint of premium strength (5% abv) beer or lager): usually increases happiness, but significantly impaired judgement and much slower reactions.
After 10 UNITS: slurred speech, loss of self control, may be aggressive.

What can you do to avoid drinking?

Rather than gambling with lives, pick any of these simple ways you can easily avoid a drink driving problem:

  • If you are the driver, stick to non alcoholic and soft drinks
  • If someone else is driving, make sure they stick to soft drinks
  • Never offer an alcoholic drink to a driver
  • Arrange for someone who is not drinking to drive
  • Take a taxi
  • Use public transport
  • Stay overnight

Sobering Up

Don’t be fooled into believing the myths around sobering up - nothing works, only time. It’s based around the speed at which your liver can breakdown the alcohol so that your body can get rid of it - typically 1 to 1 1/2 hours per unit.

  • Hot Coffee
    It may make you feel awake, but you’re still drunk.
  • Fresh air
    It will make you feel cold, but still drunk.
  • Cold Shower
    It will just make you cold, wet and drunk.