What does drinking alcohol actually do to your driving?

As the party season approaches, it’s important to understand exactly how alcohol consumption impacts yours and others’ safety

Everyone knows that driving under the influence of alcohol is a bad idea. That is why most countries have legal drink-drive limits, ensuring the safety of all road users.

As we begin the countdown to the festive party season, here’s a timely reminder of the impact alcohol has on your driving – and that of other road users.

1 Reduced reaction times

Drinking reduces the speed with which you react to changes in road conditions. This makes an accident more likely, and explains why around 9,000 accidents each year involve drink drivers.

“Even if you’re within the legal drink-drive limit in England and Wales, it adds 13 per cent to your reaction time,” says Simon Turner, who heads the government-backed Driving for Better Business campaign. “Go over the limit, and that delay gets even greater, meaning you’re a real danger to yourself and other road users.”

2 Distraction

A major factor in the delayed reaction time is the increased tendency of drink-drivers to become distracted. As this 2014 study explains, over-the-limit drivers are much less vigilant when behind the wheel, because their mind is less focused on the job at hand. 

“Alcohol may be a depressant, but it causes many people to lose focus,” explains Mr Turner. “If you’re responsible for the safety of yourself and other road users, you want to be completely attentive to the world around you. Drinking alcohol makes it much less likely that you’ll spot danger and have enough time to react.”

Car dashboard at night
Eyes on the road: alcohol consumptions makes us less able to spot danger CREDIT: GETTY

3 Over-confident

Everyone knows that drinking alcohol can also cause a surge in confidence. You can become a lot less inhibited as the drink takes effect, giving you a false sense of invincibility. 

That’s great if you’re about to sing karaoke at the office Christmas party, but not good news if you’re driving home. Being over-confident may make you more likely to take risks, putting yourself and other people in danger. So do yourself and others a big favour: take the bus or walk instead. The fresh air will do you good.

4 Hazard perception

Even with just 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood in their system (the Scottish drink-drive limit), a study of the impact of alcohol consumption on hazard perception showed a marked trend. Drivers who had been drinking were less able to spot danger. And when they did identify a hazard, they responded more abruptly, thereby increasing the chances of an accident.

“We all know that drinking makes us less able to spot danger or control our reactions,” says Clive Todd, a DSA-approved driving instructor and owner of Somerset Trailer Training. “As an experiment, I once had a go on my son’s driving simulator after drinking a couple of pints of lager. It made a huge difference to my performance and was a sobering lesson – quite literally.”

5 Expect the unexpected

Of course, staying sober while driving is only a part of the challenge, especially during the festive party season. You also need to be aware of other drivers, who may not be as careful as you are.

“People have a few drinks and feel they can take on the world,” says Mr Todd. “Watch out for drivers who seem to be taking unnecessary risks or swerving, especially at night. They may have been drinking, and you need to expect the unexpected from them.”

6 The morning after…

As a further caution, Mr Turner says drivers need to remember that alcohol could still impair their performance the morning after a big night out.

“Forty per cent of drivers have driven while over the limit from the night before, yet many believe they can cancel out the effects with something to eat, a strong coffee or even a good sleep,” he reports. 

“While you may feel better, the alcohol will not leave your system any quicker. Keep track of the amount you’ve drunk and avoid driving again until you know you’re completely sober.”

Fact checker | Drink-driving in the UK

  • The drink-drive limit in England and Wales is 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. In Scotland, the limit is 50mg per 100ml of blood.
  • Penalties for drink-driving include imprisonment, driving bans and substantial fines. If you cause death by careless driving while under the influence of alcohol, you could go to prison for up to 14 years.
  • More than half a million people are breathalysed each year in the UK. Of these, 100,000 test positive – 20,000 of whom are stopped on the morning after a night out.

Article Courtesy of The Telegraph