More than half of people at risk of breaking drink-drive limit by underestimating how drunk they are, study suggests

‘This could have serious consequences in the UK,’ says study’s authors

Olivia Petter
Tuesday 07 December 2021 11:35

Many people in the UK could be putting themselves at risk on the roads by underestimating how drunk they are, a new study has found.

According to a study, which was published in the Harm Reduction Journal, of 90 students conducted over two days in Germany, more than one in three people believe they are less intoxicated than they actually are.

The study was conducted by giving participants enough beer, wine or both, so that they reached the maximum breath alcohol concentration for driving.

Their alcohol concentration was then monitored using breathalysers.

Participants were asked to come forward when they believed they had drunk enough to reach the legal driving limit in Germany, which is a breath alcohol concentration of 0.05 per cent.

On the first day of the study, the researchers noted that 39 per cent of participants who believed they had just reached the legal driving limit had previously exceeded the limit.

Meanwhile, on the second day of the study, 53 per cent of participants did the same.

“In countries with legal alcohol limits, it’s usually the driver who makes a judgement about how much they’ve drunk and how fit they are to drive,” said Kai Hensel, one of the study’s authors who works for the University of Cambridge and Witten/Herdecke University in Germany.

“But as we’ve shown, we are not always good at making this judgement. As many as one in two people in our study underestimated how drunk they were – and this can have devastating consequences.”

They added: “Drinking and driving is a major risk fact for road traffic accidents. Anything that can be done to reduce these numbers is worth trying. With guidance, our participants were able to improve their judgement. It could be that pop-up stalls set up around drinking establishments to help people understand their breath alcohol concentration might help.

“Really, the best advice is that if you’re driving, just don’t drink. But if you really do feel like a drink, then look into your own alcohol tolerance. This differs from one person to the next, depending on your sex, weight and age, and there are some reliable apps out there that can help guide you.”

In England and Wales, the legal driving limit is 0.08 per cent.

The NHS advises men and women not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis. This is the equivalent to six pints of average-strength beer or 10 small glasses of low-strength wine.

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