What is the drink-driving limit in Northern Ireland and what are the penalties for breaking it?

Wednesday, 9th December 2020, 2:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 9th December 2020, 2:00 pm

With Christmas now just around the corner police and safety campaigners are driving home the message that drink-driving is dangerous and unacceptable. 

Every year, the festive season sees a rise in the number of roadside breath tests and an increase in the proportion of drivers failing as revellers take the wheel after consuming too much alcohol. 

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Recent figures show that drink-drive related deaths and injuries jumped to a four-year high in 2016, with more than 9,000 people killed or series injured in drink-drive incidents. 

What is the drink-drive limit in Northern Ireland?

The maximum blood alcohol limit in Northern Ireland is 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood (80mg/100ml). 

The limit can also be measured as a “breath limit”, which is 35 microgrammes of alcohol in 100ml of breath, or a “urine limit”, which is 107 milligrammes of alcohol in 100ml of urine.

What are the penalties?

The exact punishment is down to the courts but you can be fined, banned and even jailed if found guilty of drink driving.

Drink-driving offences regularly increase around Chrstmas (Photo: Shutterstock)

Different offences attracting more or less severe penalties, with the Government offering the following guidelines: 

Being in charge of a vehicle while above the legal limit or unfit through drink

You may get:

  • Three months’ imprisonment
  • a fine of up to £2,500
  • a possible driving ban

Driving or attempting to drive while above the legal limit or unfit through drink

You may get:

  • Six months’ imprisonment
  • a fine of up to £5,000 
  • a driving ban for at least one year (three years if convicted twice in 10 years)
  • Forced to resit the driving test 

Refusing to provide a specimen of breath, blood or urine for analysis

You may get:

  • Six months’ imprisonment
  • a fine of up to £5,000 
  • a ban from driving for at least one year 
  • forced to resit the driving test 

Causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink

You may get:

  • 14 years’ imprisonment
  • an unlimited fine
  • a ban from driving for at least 2 years
  • forced to sit an extended driving test before your licence is returned

You may be able to reduce your ban by taking a drink-drive rehabilitation scheme (DDRS) course if you’re banned from driving for 12 months or more. It’s up to the court to offer this.

Your driving licence won’t be returned automatically at the end of a driving ban if you are classed as a high-risk offender. You’ll only get your licence back if you pass a medical examination. As well as paying a higher fee to renew your driving licence, you may also have to attend and pay for a medical examination.

You will be classed as a high-risk offender if you:

  • were convicted of two drink-driving offences within 10 years
  • were driving when you were at two and a half times or more the legal alcohol limit
  • refused to give the police a sample of breath, blood or urine to test for alcohol
  • refused to allow a sample of your blood to be tested for alcohol (for example, if it was taken when you were unconscious)