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Drink Driving in Great Britain: How Big is the Problem?

Is there a significant risk of a drunk driver running into you in Great Britain? We've combed through years of traffic accident statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Department for Transport to get an idea of the drink driving situation in Great Britain.

Drink Driving in Great Britain has Decreased Substantially... or has it?

Overall, it appears that the drink driving situation in Great Britain has improved significantly over the past five years. Casualties from drink driving have declined, decreasing by 5.6% in the five years from 6,622 in 2013 to 6,248 in 2018. The number of fatalities due to drunk driving has decreased even more, down 8.7% from 2013.

However, the number of people seriously injured due to a driver being impaired by alcohol increased 12.7% from 2013 to 2018. A serious injury is one in which either the patient is detained as "in-patient" or one of the following occurs: fracture, concussion, internal injuries, crushing, burns (excluding friction burns), severe cuts, severe general shock and injuries causing death 30 or more days after the accident.

Casualties Where Driver/Rider Impaired by Alcohol201320185-Year Change
Number Killed138126-8.7%
Seriously Injured1,2821,44512.7%
Slightly Injured5,2024,677-10.1%
All Casualties6,6226,248-5.6%

Severe penalties for drink driving may have contributed to the general improvement over time, as well as awareness of other repercussions such as higher auto insurance costs after a drink-driving conviction. Currently, the blood alcohol limit is 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In Scotland, as in most other EU countries, the level is 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. The amount of alcohol consumed to achieve these levels varies significantly by person and situation, and can be affected by factors such as: weight, age, gender, metabolism, food intake, stress levels, hydration levels, sleep and the type of alcohol.

Data from the Department of Transport shows that the number of failed or refused breath tests in Great Britain has dropped by 42% from 6,595 in 2006 to 3,807 in 2018.

Failed/Refused Breath Tests in Great Britain

YearTotal Number of Failed/Refused Breath Tests
20066,595
20076,279
20085,521
20095,129
20104,288
20114,366
20124,112
20133,727
20143,681
20153,884
20163,883
20173,862
20183,807

How does Great Britain Compare to Other Countries?

Using data from the WHO, we discovered that alcohol is involved in 13% of road traffic deaths in Great Britain. To gain a better understanding of the severity of this number, we compared Great Britain to other countries in Europe and around the world.

Our research showed that within Europe, Great Britain is generally involved in a lower percentage of traffic accident deaths than other countries. The only country in which alcohol is involved in a lower percentage of road traffic deaths is Germany, at 7%. It seems that Great Britain's drink-driving problem is far less serious than in other parts of Europe. Most notably, alcohol contributed to around a third of road traffic fatalities in France, Portugal and Ireland.

chart Comparing the role of alcohol in road traffic fatalities in Europe
Comparing the role of alcohol in road traffic fatalities in Europe

Comparing Great Britain to other highly developed countries, it seems that drink driving contributes to fewer traffic deaths here than elsewhere. The percentage of alcohol-related traffic deaths is near 30% in many developed countries, such as France, America and Canada. In China and India, alcohol plays a smaller role in traffic fatalities; these countries tend to suffer a higher traffic fatality rate overall, however, perhaps with other factors like unsafe roads or cars playing a larger role than alcohol.

chart Comparing the role of alcohol in road traffic fatalities around the World
Comparing the role of alcohol in road traffic fatalities Around the World

Despite the fact that drunk driving is not the main cause of road traffic fatalities in Great Britain, we welcome potential changes to the law that would decrease the legal blood alcohol limit to 50mg, like Scotland and many other European countries. While British roads are among the safest in the world, any fatality is one too many.

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