blood alcohol limits drink driving US

Wine and drink driving - how to avoid nasty surprises

Drink driving

How much alcohol can I drink to make sure I stay under the drink drive limit?

This is a difficult area and if in doubt drink nothing when driving. The situation is confused by the increasing % alcohol in many wines and also the size of wine glasses in most bars and pubs (250ml =1/3 of a bottle of wine). It can be very difficult to judge how much you can safely drink and drive because of many factors including:

  • The type and amount of alcohol you’re drinking: Percentage alcohol
  • Person to person genetic variabilities causing changes in enzyme activity
  • Weight, age, sex and metabolism (the rate your body uses energy): Females will be impacted by alcohol to a much greater extent than males
  • The presence of food and the type e.g. a fatty meal like a burger with fries will significantly slow alcohol absorption. If you plan to drink and drive, eat too, preferably beforehand so that the stomach is full.
  • Stress levels at the time
  • Alcohol intolerance: Some individuals, particularly Asian exhibit something called "Alcohol flush reaction" (36% of Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese and Chinese). In this condition a person develops flushes or blotches and redness on the face, neck, shoulders, and in some cases, the entire body after drinking alcohol as well as increased heart rate and headache. The reaction is the result of an accumulation of acetaldehyde, a metabolic by-product of the  metabolism of alcohol, and is caused by a deficiency of the enzyme, acetaldehyde dehydrogenase.

Legal drink drive alcohol limits around the world

United Kingdom Drink Drive limits

England and Wales drink drive limits

In England and Wales, the alcohol limit for drivers is 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres (ml) of blood, 35 microgrammes per 100 ml of breath or 107 milligrammes per 100 ml of urine.

Scotland drink drive limit

In December 2014 the legal limit was reduced to 50 milligrammes of alcohol in every 100 ml of blood. The breath alcohol equivalent reduced to 22 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 ml of breath.


Most European countries strictly enforce a limit of 50mg, which is cut to 20mg or 30mg for drivers holding licences for under two years or those carrying people on public or commercial transport.

Some countries,  for example, Croatia, have a zero tolerance policy for young drivers and Hungary and the Czech Republic have a complete ban on drinking if you drive. 

United States

The drink drive alcohol limit for the United States is 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres (ml) of blood but because of the specific "driving under the influence" or DUI offence it means that police office can carry out arrests even if someone is not actually over a specific blood alcohol level.

Truck drivers in the USA have a lower limit of 40mg/ 100ml and many states have a zero tolerance towards motorists aged under 21 or have recently passed their driving test.

Australia drink drive limit

Australia has an immediate ban for new drivers in most states and a national limit of 50mg/100ml for older drivers. In New Zealnd, drinkdriving is banned for anyone aged under 20 years of age and for older drivers it is 80mg.

Lower alcohol level wines

Moscato d'Asti label

Wines less likely to catch you out when you're drinking as well as driving.

  • Wines made from the Riesling grape 10-13% (Sweet German Rieslings 7-9%)
  • Lambrusco 7-9% 
  • Brachetto d'Aqui 5% 
  • Muscat's e.g. Moscato d'Asti 5-5.5% 
  • Australian New South Wales Hunter Valley Semillon 10-11% 
  • English wines 10-12% 
  • Loire wines 11-12.5%

Wines to be careful with when driving


Barossa valley wines

Watch your glass size with the following types of wine.

  • Australian Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or blends of these grapes particularly South Australia (Barossa Valley etc.)
  • South African Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage
  • Californian Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel
  • French wines from the southern Rhône valley and Languedoc-Roussillon
  • Portuguese and Southern Italian reds e.g. Sicily, Puglia and Calabria
  • Spanish wines - Rioja