Christmas party-goers urged to help save lives by standing up to ‘designated drivers’ who drink, as survey shows we’re still too timid

10 December 2013

Brake, the road safety charity 

Road safety charity Brake and Direct Line are appealing to party-goers to help prevent Christmas tragedies by standing up to designated drivers who break their promise by drinking alcohol. This puts their passengers and other road users at risk.

Research released today by Brake and Direct Line, shows a huge shift in public attitudes towards drink driving over the past decade. While the vast majority of drivers now subscribe to a zero tolerance approach to alcohol and driving, in line with Brake's advice, a minority continue to cause enormous risk by driving after drinking – and passengers are struggling to stand up to these drivers.

The survey [1] of 1,000 drivers across the UK found:

  • Two-thirds of drivers (68%) won't drive after having a drink, compared to less than half (49%) a decade ago. The remaining one-third (32%) admit driving after drinking some amount of alcohol, or the morning after having a lot to drink, in the past year;
  • One in ten (10%) admit driving after drinking so much that they think they were certainly or potentially over the legal limit in the past year;
  • Four in five (81%) never drive first thing in the morning after drinking a lot of alcohol, up from 72% a decade ago;
  • While more and more drivers are committing to zero tolerance, passengers are struggling to stand up to drink drivers. Only one-third (36%) said they would refuse to get in the car if their designated driver had been drinking. One in eight (12%) say they have potentially or definitely been a passenger with a driver who was over the limit in the past year.

In 2012, 280 people were killed and 1,210 suffered serious injuries in crashes caused by drivers over the drink drive limit [2]. It's estimated a further 65 deaths are caused annually by drivers who have been drinking but are under the limit [3]. These deaths and injuries cause a huge amount of pain and suffering to those involved and the families left behind, many of whom are supported by Brake's support services for bereaved and injured road crash victims.

Brake is calling for the government to catch up with research and public attitudes by reducing the legal limit to 20mg alcohol per 100ml of blood – effectively zero tolerance. This would send a clear message, in line with research, that driving after any amount of alcohol significantly increases your crash risk. Evidence indicates lowering our limit would help reduce the casualties that continue to result from drink driving [4].

Read about Brake's not a drop, not a drag campaign. Read the survey report.

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive, Brake, said: "Public attitudes towards drink driving have shifted dramatically, yet people are still being killed and injured by those who continue to take this inexcusable risk. We need action from government to rectify this and put a stop to the carnage that continues to result. Our current drink drive limit is a dangerous relic: research has shown a lower limit is far safer; hence almost all other countries in Europe have reduced theirs. Most people are on board with zero tolerance on drink driving, and the government must respond. Reducing the limit to 20mg would send a clear message that any amount of alcohol before driving is a dangerous risk that's never worth it.

"We are also appealing to everyone to look after themselves, family and friends this festive season, by planning ahead to get home safely and speaking out against drink driving. If you drive, pledge to never drink any alcohol before getting behind the wheel, and if you have a designated driver, make sure they stay completely off the booze."

Rob Miles, director of Motor at Direct Line, said: "Worryingly, one in eight people have been a passenger in a car when they've suspected the driver may have been over the drink-drive limit. We're calling on motorists and passengers alike to be responsible and prevent drink-driving when they have any concerns about the driver being over the limit or otherwise unsafe."

One in six deaths on UK roads are caused by drink drivers over the current legal limit [5], but drivers with even 20-50mg alcohol per 100ml of blood are at least three times more likely to die in a crash than those with no alcohol in their blood [6]. This is because even small amounts of alcohol affect drivers' reaction times, judgment and co-ordination. Alcohol also makes it impossible for drivers to assess their own impairment because it creates a false sense of confidence and means drivers are more inclined to take risks and believe they are in control when they are not [7].

Brake's advice
Even very small amounts of alcohol affect drivers' reaction times and hazard perception, making them much more likely to crash. This is the case even if the driver doesn't feel drunk or even tipsy. So the only way to ensure you're safe if you're driving this festive season is not drink any alcohol before driving, and never drive the morning after having more than one or two drinks. And as a passenger, only accept a lift with a driver who's had no alcohol at all.

Planning ahead to get home safely will help you avoid getting into an awkward or risky situation, such as having to refuse a lift from a driver who has had alcohol. If you're getting a lift back from a night out with someone, make sure they are 100% on board with not having any alcohol at all. Always have a plan B just in case a designated driver lets you down, or arrange from the outset to get a taxi or public transport instead.

Calls for government action
Brake calls for a zero tolerance limit of 20mg alcohol per 100ml of blood, to send a clear message that it should be none for the road. This allows for naturally occurring alcohol in the body, and is a limit set by numerous other countries including Sweden, Poland and Greece. The EU recommends a limit of no more than 50mg, and within Europe only Malta shares the UK's limit of 80mg alcohol. Governments in Scotland and Northern Ireland have announced intentions to reduce their limits to 50mg alcohol per 100ml blood. In Northern Ireland, newly qualified drivers and commercial drivers will have a zero tolerance limit of 20mg.

Read about Brake's Not a drop, not a drag campaign.

Case study
Christmas 2010 was memorable for all the wrong reasons for Daniel Glynn, 21, from Kent. He spent Christmas Day in hospital, undergoing emergency surgery for injuries he suffered because he had caught a lift home from a party on Christmas Eve with a friend who'd been drinking.

They'd been out celebrating, and Daniel knew his friend had had a drink but didn't realise how much and accepted a lift anyway.

Travelling back, Daniel's friend lost control and the vehicle span across the road and hit a tree at full force. Police reported the car was unrecognisable and the engine was found five metres away.

Daniel was taken to hospital, and was told he had broken all the ribs on his left side, his knee cap was badly damaged and his bowel had been ruptured.

Daniel had to return to hospital a number of times for further treatment and repeat a year at college because of time out due to his injuries.

He is supporting Brake's 'not a drop, not a drag' campaign and calling for everyone to speak out against drink driving, and never get in a car with someone you know has been drinking.

Daniel said: "I was naive. I thought it wouldn't happen to me, but I now know drink driving, or getting a lift with a drink driver, is never worth the risk. My life was turned upside down, and I went through months of terrible agony that could have easily been avoided. But I was one of the lucky ones: it could easily have ended both our lives. Now I'd never catch a lift with a driver who's been drinking, not even one drink, and I'd urge everyone to make the same commitment. Speaking up about drink driving isn't always easy, but it could save a life or prevent a horrific injury, so please speak out to friends and family this Christmas, and if you're a driver, commit to never, ever, drinking alcohol before getting behind the wheel.

About the report
These survey results come from section two of the Direct Line and Brake report on safe driving, 2013 – 2014 Fit to drive, released today (Wednesday 18 December). Read the report.

Full results
Have you driven when you may have been over the drink drive limit in the past 12 months, including the morning after?

  • 2% said yes, I am sure I have driven over the limit
  • 8% said yes, it's possible I may have exceeded the limit
  • 22% said no, I'm certain I never exceeded the limit, although I have drunk small amounts of alcohol before driving or driven the morning after drinking a lot
  • 68% said no, I'm certain I never exceeded the limit, because I have not drunk any alcohol at all before driving or driven the morning after drinking

Within the past 12 months, have you driven first thing in the morning after drinking a lot of alcohol the night before?

  • 2% said yes, about once a week
  • 2% said yes, about once a month
  • 2% said yes, less than once a month
  • 2% said yes, less than once a month
  • 13% said yes, once or twice
  • 81% said no, never

How much alcohol do you think it takes to affect your driving?

  • 41% said one small glass of wine, 1/2 pint of average-strength beer, or one shot of spirits (or equivalent)
  • 41% said two small glasses of wine, one pint of average-strength beer, or two shots of spirits (or equivalent)
  • 13% said three small glasses of wine, 1.5 pints of average-strength beer, or three shots of spirits (or equivalent)
  • 6% said 4 or more small glasses of wine, two or more pints of average-strength beer, or four or more shots of spirits (or equivalent)

If you had been relying on a designated driver to drive you home, and then found out they had been drinking, would you get in?

  • 1% said yes, I probably would no matter what the circumstances
  • 3% said yes, no matter how much they'd had, but only if they seemed safe to drive
  • 10% said only if they had drunk less than three drinks and seemed safe to drive
  • 16% said only if they had drunk no more than two drinks and seemed safe to drive
  • 33% said only if they had drunk no more than one drink and seemed safe to drive
  • 36% said no, definitely not, even if they'd only had one drink and seemed safe to drive

In the past 12 months, have you been a passenger in a vehicle when you think the driver may have been over the drink drive limit?

  • 1% said yes, definitely
  • 3% said yes, probably
  • 8% said yes, possibly
  • 89% said no, definitely not

Brake is an independent road safety charity. Brake exists to stop the five deaths and 63 serious injuries that happen on UK roads every day and to care for families bereaved and seriously injured in road crashes. Brake runs awareness-raising campaigns, community education programmes, events such as Road Safety Week (18-24 November 2013), and a Fleet Safety Forum, providing advice to companies. Brake's support division cares for road crash victims through a helpline and other services.

Road crashes are not accidents; they are devastating and preventable events, not chance mishaps. Calling them accidents undermines work to make roads safer, and can cause insult to families whose lives have been torn apart by needless casualties.

Direct Line
Started in 1985, Direct Line became the first UK insurance company to use the telephone as its main channel of communication. It provides motor, home, travel and pet insurance cover direct to customers by phone or on-line.
Direct Line general insurance policies are underwritten by U K Insurance Limited, Registered office: The Wharf, Neville Street, Leeds LS1 4AZ. Registered in England No 1179980. U K Insurance Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.

Direct Line and UK Insurance limited are both part of Direct Line Insurance Group plc.
Customers can find out more about Direct Line products or get a quote by calling 0845 246 3761 or visiting

End notes:
[1] A survey of 1,000 drivers from across the UK conducted on behalf of Brake and Direct Line by SurveyGoo, compared to a survey of 1,000 drivers by Brake and Green Flag in 1993.
[2] Reported Road Casualties in Great Britain: 2012 Annual Report, Department for Transport, 2013
[3] Reducing the BAC limit to 50mg – what can we expect to gain?, Professor Richard E Allsop, Centre for Transport Studies University College London (PACTS, 2005)
[4] Research by Sheffield University, which examined casualty trends in England and Wales against the success of lowering the limit in other European Countries and Australia, estimated that lowering the limit to 50mg would save in the region of 77-168 deaths each year in England and Wales alone. (R Rafia, A Brennan, Modelling methods to estimate the potential impact of lowering the blood alcohol concentration limit from 80 mg/100 ml to 50 mg/100 ml in England and Wales, Report to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR), University of Sheffield, 2010). Brake believes lowering the limit to 20mg is likely prevent even more deaths, given evidence showing the detrimental effects on driving of 20-50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. When Sweden lowered its drink-drive limit from 50mg to 20mg per 100ml of blood, drink-drive deaths fell by 10%. (The Globe 2003 issue 2, Institute of Alcohol Studies, 2003).
[5] Reported Road Casualties in Great Britain: 2012 Annual Report, Department for Transport, 2013
[6] National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, 2010. Review of effectiveness of laws limiting blood alcohol concentration levels to reduce alcohol-related road injuries and deaths, London: National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence
[7] ibid