Driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol

Driving under the influence is against the law in the UK. Driving or operating a vehicle while impaired by alcohol or other drugs, including recreational drugs and those prescribed by a doctor, to a level that makes you incapable of driving safely poses a danger to yourself and others. Northumbria Police have ongoing operations to tackle these issues and well trained officers with roadside tests that make it easier to detect those who are driving under the influence. If you are caught and convicted, you could face a driving ban, large fine and a prison sentence.

Any amount of alcohol can impair your judgement and ability to drive safely. It creates a feeling of overconfidence which makes judging distance and speed more difficult and slows your reaction time considerably.  You will be endangering the lives of other drivers and pedestrians as well as your own. Processing information takes a lot longer than usual. Instructions to your muscles from your brain are delayed, slowing your reaction times.

The Testing Methods

Our officers are trained to spot signs of alcohol and drug use in drivers and carry out roadside tests when they suspect someone of being under the influence.

Breath tests

Northumbria Police officers have the powers to ask you a driver to give a roadside breath tests if:

  • you have been involved in an accident
  • the officer suspects you have been drinking
  • you have been driving, attempting to drive or are in charge of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • you have committed a traffic offence while driving a vehicle, regardless of whether or not the police officer reasonably suspects you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs.If you refuse to take the breath test, or fail to provide it, you can be arrested.

Preliminary Impairment Testing (PIT)

This a process designed to determine if a person is unfit to drive through drugs.  It uses the following methods of testing:

  • Non-invasive eye examination
  • Balance exercises
  • Co-ordination exercises
  • Divided attention exercises

Drug testing wipes

Drug wipe is a mobile preliminary drug testing device that can be used at the roadside.  This might be used as well as the preliminary impairment test. This can show the presence of cannabis or cocaine in a person’s saliva. If there is a positive result the driver will then go to a police station where a blood sample is taken by a medical practitioner.  

There are many manufacturers of this type of device; Drugwipe is the brand that Northumbria uses.

The consequences of drug or drink driving

Drink or drug driving could lead to:

  • a criminal record
  • a heavy fine
  • losing your licence
  • an increase in your insurance premiums (although some insurers won’t insure you at all)
  • Issues with travelling to certain countries (e.g. USA)
  • Up to 6 months in prison
  • An endorsement on your licence for 11 years


Remember – you should always consider the morning after the night before when drinking. Don’t risk driving for many hours afterwards.

http://morning-after.org.uk/ - click the link to give you an idea of how long to wait before you get back in the car. The only thing that gets rid of alcohol is TIME – not showers, a cooked breakfast or coffee.

Further information can be found on: https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/alcohol-and-the-law/can-i-drive-the-morning-after-drinking-alcohol/


It’s an offence to drive if you have over the specified limit of certain drugs in your blood and you haven’t been prescribed them. The physical effects of drugs may differ, but they all still impair your ability to drive:

  • Cannabis - Slows reaction and decision times. It can also distort perception of time and distance, and result in poorer concentration and control of the vehicle.
  • Cocaine - Leads to a sense of over-confidence and this is reflected in user’s driving style. Users typically perform higher risk, more aggressive manoeuvres at greater speeds.
  • Ecstasy (MDMA) - Results in distorted vision, heightened perception of sounds, altered perception and judgment of risks and an over-confident driving attitude.
  • LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) – This can distort your senses and be quite unpredictable. These episodes are called ‘Bad Trips’. Time and movement can appear to speed up and slow down. Colour, sound and objects can get distorted and you can experience double vision. LSD is the most dangerous drug you can take before driving.It is not just illegal drugs which can affect your ability to drive – prescribed medication can also have an impact.
  • If you are found in the possession of drugs you will be reported for the offence.

It’s illegal in England and Wales to drive with legal drugs in your body if it impairs your driving.

Talk to your doctor about whether you should drive if you’ve been prescribed any of the following drugs:

  • amphetamine, eg dexamphetamine or selegiline
  • clonazepam
  • diazepam
  • flunitrazepam
  • lorazepam
  • methadone
  • morphine or opiate and opioid-based drugs, eg codeine, tramadol or fentanyl
  • oxazepam
  • temazepam


How to report a suspected drink/drug driver?

If it is happening now call 999. If possible and safe to do so tell us the registration plate, make/model of the vehicle and a description of the driver.

What will happen when you get stopped by police officers?

Our officers are trained to spot signs of alcohol and drug use in drivers. We can now carry out roadside tests to use when we suspect a driver. Click the link to find out further-


What is the legal drink driving limit in the UK?

In England and Wales the legal alcohol limit for driving is:

  • 35 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath; or
  • 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood; or
  • 107 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine

What happens if I fail the road side breath test but pass at the police station?

Usually, a person who fails a road side breath test but passes an evidential breath test at the police station will be released without charge and no further action will be taken.

In certain cases, however, the police could seek to prove that they were in fact over the legal prescribed limit at the time of the alleged incident, despite being under the limit at the time a breath specimen was taken.

How long does a drink driving endorsement stay on my licence?

drink driving endorsement (DR10) will remain on your licence for a period of 11 years from the date of conviction.

What are the drink driving penalties for a first offence?

The minimum penalty upon conviction of a first drink driving offence in the UK is a 12 month driving disqualification and a band B fine.

Any period of disqualification imposed can be reduced by taking and completing a ‘Drink Driving Rehabilitation Scheme (DDRS) course. The course must be offered by the courts at the time of sentencing.

This is the minimum penalty that can be imposed for drink driving, the level of alcohol in a person’s system is a crucial factor that courts consider when determining the appropriate penalty.

A lengthy disqualification, an unlimited fine, a community order and up to 26 weeks in custody could be imposed for a first offence if a drink driver had a high level of alcohol in their system.


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