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Avoid 'morning after' drink-driving

29 October 2019

If you've been celebrating into the small hours at a party or a wedding and then got up early, here's why you probably shouldn't be driving...

A whiskey glass sits next to some car keys to represent drink driving

You doubtless see yourself as a responsible motorist and someone who would never drink and drive. Whether it's the pub, a party or a gig, if you're drinking you either arrange a designated driver or a taxi home – and rightly so.

But what about the morning after? Most people think that after a night's sleep any alcohol will have left their system and they will be safe to take to the road again. But recent data revealed by UK police forces via a freedom of information request revealed that 28% of arrests for drink-driving took place during the 'morning after' period of 5am to 11am.

'Morning after' drink-driving is a situation in which otherwise law-abiding motorists can find themselves caught out. The issue was brought into the spotlight in 2017 when the television presenter Kirsty Gallacher was handed a two year driving ban and community service for being three times over the legal alcohol limit when driving the morning after a night drinking with friends. She had taken a taxi home from the pub and then another one to collect her car in the morning. She then went on to drive it, not realising that she was still over the limit. Speaking in mitigation, Gallacher's lawyer said, 'This is in many senses unintentional drink-driving and what the defendant did was exactly right until 11am the next morning.'

And according to breathalyser company AlcoSense, the latest figures, published by the Department for Transport in February 2019, indicate there were 290 deaths in 2017 where alcohol was a factor - compared with 200 in 2015 - so it's a problem that keeps getting worse. 

Women and drink driving

There is a widespread lack of awareness about how long it takes for alcohol to be assimilated. The general rule of thumb is that it takes the body an hour to absorb and fully process a standard drink – a half pint of beer, small glass of wine or pub measure of spirits. But that's not the whole picture. There are so many variables to be taken into account including gender (men generally metabolise alcohol more effectively than women), age, weight, metabolism and any medication that might be taken.

Another issue is that people often lose track of how much they have drunk. This is especially the case when at parties or drinking in people's homes when the measures served are invariably far more generous than in a pub.

And then there are the situations where someone will feel that after a night's sleep they should be fine to drive the next morning. But if they've been to an event where the festivities have continued into the small hours, such as a New Year's Eve party or a wedding and then got up early, they may only have slept for four or so hours as opposed to their usual eight.

According to a survey by YouGov and scrap car recycling company 17% of drivers feel it's sometimes acceptable to drive after drinking as long as they feel unaffected. But this is a very dangerous belief to have.

What you need to know about the drink driving limit

There are plenty of myths about how to speed up your recovery after an evening's drinking ranging from a cold shower to hot coffee and a cooked breakfast. But the only thing they all have in common is that none of them actually work. They might make you feel as though you’re more sober but in truth they won't make the slightest difference when it comes to getting alcohol and its effects out of your body and making you capable of driving safely again.

When your body metabolises alcohol there are a number of processes taking place, mainly enzymes in the liver breaking it down. It's not possible to speed this up – you just have to be patient and avoid driving until your alcohol levels are well below the legal limit.

Tips for avoiding 'morning after' drink-driving

• If you've got a major event planned and you know there's the possibility that you'll over-indulge, you must make sure you have zero driving commitments the next day. If you need to travel, take a taxi or public transport and don't make any agreements to drive anyone to work, railway stations or football practice.

• Stop drinking early in the evening. Once you've had a drink or two you'll already feel relaxed enough to chat or dance the night away. Why not just switch to soft drinks then and enjoy waking up hangover-free?

• If you want to take the guesswork out of knowing when it's safe to drive again, it can be worth investing in a personal breathalyser – the AlcoSense Lite 2 Breathalyser (approx £45, Amazon) gives you clear results in seconds.  All you need for a reading is to turn the unit on, wait for it to count down to zero, then blow until it beeps (about 6 seconds). It has an adjustable warning system that features a ‘Don’t Drive’ alert, both on screen and audibly.  It can be set to the drink drive limit in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – or the lower limit in Scotland and Republic of Ireland. The life of the breathalyser is extended by a cleaning system that removes oxidisation and contaminants from the sensor, and it has a calibration reminder after 12 months or 300 tests - so it’s easy to remember to get it re-calibrated for on-going reliability.  

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.