Festive warning: Drink driving conviction rate 96 per cent

  • 1,500 breath tests conducted every day in December across England and Wales
  • 15 per cent of motorists who were administered roadside breath test in 2019 failed, up five per cent
  • Drink driving fines top almost £100 million in past decade
  • In 2018 it is estimated that around 240 deaths were caused by drivers or riders being over the drink-drive limit
  • Motorists need to be careful this Christmas even if just having one drink, as experiment found drivers free pouring measures overpoured standard sized glasses by as much as 62 per cent

New analysis1 from Direct Line Motor Insurance reveals that despite the number of prosecutions for drink driving falling from 61,260 in 2009 to 35,084 in 2018, the conviction rate has remained high at 96 per cent. In 2010 60,9992 motorists failed roadside breath tests in England and Wales, however this had fallen to 13,763 by 2019.

While the overall number of motorists failing roadside breath tests is falling, the proportion of motorists found to be over the drink drive limit is actually increasing. In 2019, 15 per cent of motorists who were administered roadside breath tests were recorded as failing, an increase of five per cent compared to the 10 per cent failure rate in 2010. Furthermore, in 2018 it is estimated that around 240 deaths were caused by at least one driver or rider being over the drink-drive limit on British roads3.

Almost three quarters of those convicted are given a monetary fine with an average value of £254.48, an increase of £64.42 (27 per cent) since 2009. Over the course of the past decade this has seen drink driving fines top almost £100 million (£97.8m) across England and Wales.

December in particular is a busy month for breath tests, with a sixth (16 per cent) of all breath tests administered across England and Wales over the course of 2019/20 in December – an average of more than 1,500 every day. This is almost double the next highest month over the course of 2019/20. The number of failed tests recorded also rises in December, with 26 per cent more positive or refused results recorded than in the average month (5,210).

Lorraine Price, Head of motor insurance at Direct Line, commented: “With more people celebrating at home rather than out in pubs and restaurants this Christmas, due to lockdown restrictions, it is incredibly important for designated drivers to know exactly how much  alcohol they have had before getting behind the wheel. It is always better to be safe rather than sorry and the only way anyone can be sure that they are safe to drive is if they don’t have any alcohol at all.”

Joshua Harris, Director of campaigns at Brake, the road safety charity, said: “The fact that drivers are likely overestimating the amount they can drink, and then drive, while remaining compliant with the law, is deeply concerning, especially ahead of the busy festive season. There will no doubt be many merry celebrations this Christmas, following a difficult year, but we urge all drivers to plan ahead, prioritise safety, and never get behind the wheel if you’ve had a drink. Let’s make sure we all remember Christmas 2020 for the right reasons, for being with our families again, rather than for risking driving after a drink and being involved in a crash which can never be undone.”

Further research5 exposed the risk of driving over the legal alcohol limit due to a lack of understanding of alcohol measures, which saw people pour excessively large glasses containing several units of alcohol. In a practical experiment testing drivers’ ability to pour set limits of alcohol, 56 per cent of participants over poured when asked to fill a glass with standard pub measures of wine. 

The experiment tested 100 drivers’ ability to free pour pub standard measures of alcohol, investigating whether when drinking at home drivers could be over the legal alcohol limit without realising. Over half (51 per cent) of participants poured more than 125ml when asked to fill a glass with this measure, 13 per cent poured at least a 175ml sized glass and one in 20 poured over 200ml. When asked to pour out a 175ml glass, nearly two thirds (62 per cent) over poured and 14 per cent poured the equivalent of at least a 250ml glass of wine containing a minimum of 3.2 units6 of alcohol.

Spirits are even tougher to estimate, with three quarters (75 per cent) of participants over pouring a single 25ml spirit measure and one in six (18 per cent) pouring at least a double (50ml) instead of a single.  When asked to pour a double, nearly two thirds (63 per cent) poured more than the correct 50ml of spirits. Almost a quarter (24 per cent) poured at least a treble (75ml) and one in 12 (eight per cent) went so far, they poured 100ml, a quadruple measure. Pouring spirits over ice led to a greater proportion of participants overpouring both a single (77 per cent) and a double (64 per cent) measure.

- ENDS -

Notes to Editors


  1. Direct Line analysis of Ministry of Justice data from 2009 – 2018, published 16th May 2019. No update to the Motoring Data Pivot was provided in 2020.
  2. Direct Line analysis of Department for Transport data covering screening breath tests by reason for test, time and day, 2010-2019. Data published 30 September 2020
  3. “Reported road casualties in Great Britain: provisional estimates involving illegal alcohol levels:        2018”, published by the Department for Transport on 12th February 2020
  4. “Breath test statistics – Police powers and procedures, 2019/20”, published by the ONS on 27th October 2020.
  5. 100 participants with ages ranging from 18-86 participated in the experiment, which took place in July 2020. The gender split was 56% women and 44% men. Participants were asked to free pour their standard home measures of both wine and spirits and then pour what they believed to be 125ml and 175ml glasses of wine and 25ml and 50ml measures of spirits, both with and without ice.
  6. https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/facts/alcoholic-drinks-and-units/units-and-calories-in-alcoholic-drinks/red-wine

For further information please contact:

Simon Henrick 
PR Manager (Motor)
Direct Line Group

Tel: 01651 831 668
Email: [email protected]

Samantha Stewart

Citigate Dewe Rogerson

[email protected]

0207 025 6497


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