Members of the public and young people in particular are being urged to take a zero tolerance approach to drink-driving this festive season to help prevent devastating Christmas tragedies.
A survey of young drivers, released today by Brake and Direct Line,  finds a shocking three in 10 (29%) are willing to take the deadly gamble of driving after drinking alcohol.
An even bigger proportion – a majority 53%, up from 45% four years ago – risk driving drunk the day after a heavy night, suggesting widespread complacency about how long alcohol stays in your system (see below for Brake’s morning after calculator).
Many young drivers also wrongly believe they can get away with drinking several drinks before their driving is affected. While the majority (62%) understand that even one unit affects driving, a worrying one in eight (12%) believe they can consume three or more units and still drive safely.
The survey suggests the drink drive message is getting through to most young drivers, with far fewer admitting driving after drinking than four years ago (29% compared to 44% in 2007), and a smaller proportion of young drivers admitting this than older drivers (29% compared to 36% of older drivers). However, Brake is warning that too many young drivers are continuing to risk their own lives and others by driving after drinking, and this age group remains most likely to fail a breath test following a crash .
Brake and Direct Line are calling on young people, families and all drivers and passengers to commit to a zero tolerance approach to drink driving this festive season, and year-round:
- Never drink and drive – not a drop – and ensure you don’t need to drive early the next morning if having more than one or two drinks.
- Plan ahead to get home safely from festivities, and never get in a car with a driver who has been drinking even a small amount.
- Speak upif you see a friend or loved one about to drink and drive – tell them the horrific consequences aren’t worth it.
Julie Townsend, Brake campaigns director, said: “Christmas is a time for family and friends to get together and celebrate. But for some of the families Brake supports, it’s a sad time when they remember loved ones who have been killed in crashes caused by drink-drivers – in many cases young, inexperienced drivers who didn’t think through the consequences.
Their deaths were preventable, and we all – young and old – have a responsibility to do what we can to prevent further drink drive deaths and injuries. We can do that by pledging to never drink a drop of alcohol before getting behind the wheel, never get in a car with a driver who has been drinking, and to speak up about drink driving to friends and family this Christmas. Making this commitment could save your life, or the lives of loved ones.”
Tom Woolgrove, Managing Director of Personal Lines at Direct Line, said: “Alcohol and driving do not mix. There is no excuse. Young drivers may feel pressurised when on a night out with friends to have a few drinks and still get behind the wheel; however, the consequences can be devastating for them, their passengers or innocent road users. With nearly one in three young drivers willing to drink and drive and more than half of them driving the following morning, after drinking the night before, it seems the message for some just isn’t getting through. Driving brings with it huge responsibility and for young inexperienced drivers, greater education and legislation is required.”
Brake is also calling on government to adopt zero tolerance policies on drink driving, to stamp out this continuing menace, including a much lower drink drive limit and increased powers for police to carry out random, targeted testing (see below).
Tragically, 250 people were killed and 1,230 were seriously injured on British roads in 2010 by drivers over the drink drive limit, and many more by drivers with a significant amount of alcohol in their systems but under the limit  (see below for more facts).
Anyone who has been bereaved or seriously injured in a crash can call the Brake helpline for support on 0845 603 8570 .
In 2010, one in seven road deaths involved drink drivers. 250 road deaths and 1,230 road casualties occurred when someone was over the drink drive limit. Many more drink-drive crashes are caused by drivers who only have small amounts of alcohol in their blood. A further estimated 65 road deaths per year are caused by drivers who are under the drink-drive limit, but who have a significant amount of alcohol in their blood. Research shows that even very small amounts of alcohol significantly increase reaction times and therefore your risk of crashing .
Alcohol is a prevalent risk factor for young drivers. Young drivers are the most likely age group to be recorded as impaired by alcohol after crashing and they have more drink drive crashes per licence holder or per mile travelled than any other age group.
Advice for drivers
The only way to stay safe when driving is to stay sober. That means not one drink: even one small drink dramatically increases crash risk even if it doesn’t feel like it makes a difference. If you know you are planning to drink, plan alternative transport home so you are not tempted to drive. If you know you need to drive early the next morning, don’t drink more than one or two drinks the night before. If you have a lot to drink, you could be impaired all of the next day. See Brake’s morning after calculator.
Never get in a car with someone who has had a drink and always try to stop family and friends from driving if they have been drinking. Call the police if you see someone drunk and about to drive – they could kill themselves or someone else.
Recommendations to government
Brake is calling on the government to adopt zero tolerance policies on drink driving by:
Cutting the limit to 20mg alcohol/100ml bloodto send a clear message that it’s none for the road. Our limit is currently 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, the highest in Europe. The EC recommends a maximum of 50mg/100ml, but several countries have adopted a zero tolerance limit of 20mg/100ml. Northern Ireland recently announced it will introduce a 20mg limit for novice drivers, leading the way in the UK. Research shows even a small amount of alcohol affect your ability to drive safely by slowing reaction times and distorting judgment.
Step up enforcement, by giving police powers (and ensuring they have sufficient resources) to carry out random, targeted and blanket testing. The increased threat of being caught, alongside our existing mandatory one year driving ban for drink drivers, should deter drivers who think they can get away with it.
Raise awareness among drivers about the dangers of driving after drinking any amount of alcohol, and the threat of being caught. This should include compulsory road safety education delivered in schools to 11-16 year olds, plus widespread media advertising targeting high risk groups.
Read about Brake’s ‘Not a drop, not a drag’ campaign.
Andrew Wilcox, 18, was tragically killed in a young driver drink drive crash on Christmas Day 2005. Andrew and his friend Jamie Artus, 19, had been celebrating and drinking on Christmas Eve. They went home, but then decided to go out again in Jamie’s car. At 1am that night, Jamie crashed his car, with Andrew and another passenger in it. Andrew died later that day in hospital. Jamie and the other passenger were treated in hospital for their injuries. Andrew was a Manchester United fan and had captained his local rugby team in Gloucester.
Andrew’s Mum Anna McGloin is supporting Brake’s calls for a zero tolerance approach to drink driving and is urging all young drivers, and drivers of all ages, to never drink a drop of alcohol before getting behind the wheel. Anna said: “I don’t celebrate Christmas. It doesn’t exist for me anymore. Instead it’s a day for remembering Andrew and what a wonderful son he was. It’s also a day when I relive the horror of learning of his crash. His death has left a gaping hole in my life. My wonderful son is lost forever. I’ve been denied grandchildren and I’ll never see him grow old.
People don’t realise that when they have a drink and take to the road they hurt people; they devastate lives. My Christmas message is to tell people that Christmas is about family, and if you drink any amount of alcohol and drive, you risk all that. You could kill yourself or someone else. Please pledge never to drink a drop of alcohol before getting behind the wheel.”
Steven Negus, 16, from Lancing, West Sussex, died on 25 September 1984. He was cycling home at 11pm, when he was struck from behind by a young driver who had been drinking alcohol. Steven was thrown from his bike and landed on the pavement. He never regained consciousness. He was a tall, gentle lad who was known for being genuinely nice. He loved life and his family.
Steven’s brother, Craig Peters, now 30, is appealing for young drivers – and drivers of all ages – to pledge to drive sober or not at all this Christmas. Craig said: “I was only four years old when my brother was killed by a young driver who had been drinking. I grew up in the shadow of his death. It devastated my family, and it shaped my upbringing. You are told that time heals the pain, but it doesn’t.
I think about what could have been. My older brother, so gentle and kind, could have been there, and my family could have been whole. If you break traffic laws you could go to prison or get a hefty fine, but at the end of the day, someone could lose their life and that’s the bottom line. A death on the road is so violent and traumatic that it affects generations to come – that grief doesn’t end – it sticks and it’s passed down.
“Please don’t risk yours or someone else’s life by drinking a drop of alcohol before getting behind the wheel. It’s tempting when you are young, to think you can handle it – but the truth is that no one can – it affects everyone’s ability to drive safely, young or old. Please commit to driving sober this festive season and year round to stop more families suffering like mine has.”
Anna and Craig are available for interviews. Photos on request. Call Brake on 01484 559909 firstname.lastname@example.org