Women's drink driving comes under scrutiny

19 May 2015

How to stop women drink driving will be a topic of debate at this year’s Police Federation conference held in Bournemouth this week, from 19 to 21 May.

The annual conference, attended by representatives from the 43 forces in England and Wales, is a pivotal event in the Federation’s calendar which aims to promote policing, share best practice and help shape the service of the future.

The ‘drink drive challenge’ session on Tuesday (19 May) tackles the question ‘why are women continuing to drink and drive?’ following recent research which highlights the impact of women’s drinking habits on their driving activities.  

Although more men than women are caught drink driving, women’s convictions are increasing as a proportion of all convictions – up by 17% – whilst male rates are falling – down by 24%.

Victoria Martin, Police Federation Representative, explained: “We’ve seen a steep decline in men drink driving over the years, with targeted advertising campaigns which is great, but women don’t seem to be getting the same message.  It seems we have a worrying trend with females still flouting the drink drive limit, sometimes scarily unaware, putting themselves and others in danger as well as adding to the drain on police resources.”

The police service has suffered unprecedented cuts in the last five years and roads policing units – which deal with drink driving as well as fatal and serious road traffic accidents – have been hit disproportionately by the reductions in officer numbers.

Ms Martin continued: “We are now seeing the consequences of the cuts with more people dying and becoming seriously injured on our roads, some as a result of drink driving.  We would like to see a lower drink drive limit as most other European countries have as well as Scotland which saw a marked reduction in failed breathalyser tests as soon as the law was changed last year.  We would also like to see road safety back on the national and local agenda.”

A study by Social Research Associates (SRA) as well as a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development point to a rise in alcohol consumption among middle-aged, educated women.  SRA took their research one step further, also asking whether women drove after drinking, and why.

Kris Beuret OBE, Director of Social Research Associates and author of the study, said: “This is the first specific research on the subject which has shown that many reasons for women drink driving are gender specific.  These include the effects of different metabolism on men and women’s bodies, confusion about how many units are in alcoholic drinks – especially wine – and thinking that the police would be less likely to stop them.  In addition some women drove over the limit due to family pressures.”  

“The study also found that several important messages aren’t getting across to women – and this is reinforced by the generally male dominated imagery of anti-drink driving campaigns.  

“Some women in the study even admitted trying to drive ‘extra carefully’ but this is no solution, getting caught is a real risk and there is almost always an alternative.”

A staggering 40 per cent of women surveyed admitted to driving after drinking alcohol, with many not realising they could have been over the limit.  More than a third believed they could legally drive after a pint or more of (5% abv) beer, true for some but not for everyone, and almost 15% thought they could drink more than a 175ml glass of (12% abv) wine and still be under the limit, showing a distinct lack of awareness about how much is safe to drink.

The effects of alcohol:

Many of the functions that we depend on to drive safely are affected when we drink alcohol – the brain takes longer to receive messages from the eye, processing information becomes more difficult and instructions to the body's muscles are delayed resulting in slower reaction times.

Alcohol units and the drink-drive limit:
• A pint of 5% beer is 2.8 units
• A 175ml glass of 12% wine is at least 2.1 units

The guideline for the legal drink-drive limit in England and Wales is three units for women (and three to four units for men).  However it’s not an exact science as alcohol affects everyone differently, with even small amounts affecting some people’s ability to drive safely.  Factors include your weight, metabolism and even your current stress levels.  So even though there are guidelines it’s actually extremely difficult to give a blanket answer to how much a woman can drink to be 100% safe to drive.  The advice is simply avoid alcohol altogether if you are going to drive.

The facts:
In 2012, 1,200 people were seriously injured when a driver was over the legal alcohol limit.  As a result, 280 people were killed in drink-driving accidents.

Tips for staying safe:
• Leave the car at home and take a bus, tube, train or taxi.
• Arrange within your group who's going to be the designated driver.
• If you are driving don’t drink at all – stick to non-alcoholic beer, mocktails or soft drinks.

Click here to view the SRA report