How Long After Drinking Alcohol Can I Drive?

In this guide

We all want to be responsible drivers when on the road, and one of the best ways to do that is to avoid driving after you’ve been consuming alcohol. Driving while over the limit is illegal, and getting behind the wheel while inebriated can be devastating if things go wrong. 

Many people believe that sleeping after drinking helps you get alcohol out of your system, but if you drank heavily the night before, you could still be well over the limit. People remove alcohol from their bloodstream at different rates, so the length of time you have to wait depends on the individual. As a rule, avoid drinking the night before driving to play it safe. 

Here’s more information to determine when it’s safe and legal for you to drive after drinking. 

What’s the limit? 

The legal alcohol limit in the UK is 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood or 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath. As drunk driving is usually checked by a breathalyser first, it’s the second number that drivers should focus on when determining if they can drive. 

To reach this limit, men will need to drink around four units on average, whereas women reach this after three units. This means that even after two low-percentage beers, men will usually be unable to drive and will have to wait a few hours before they can consider driving in the UK. 

The punishment for being found over the limit is severe in the UK. You could get: 

  • Six months in prison 
  • An unlimited fine
  • A ban from driving for at least a year

Plus, the consequences of driving when over the limit can also be awful, even if you’re not caught. When beyond this limit, your reaction times will be slower, your hand-eye coordination will suffer, and you can also become more tired. These effects mean that you’re more likely to cause and be involved in accidents, which, at best, can lead to insurance costs and, at worst, can lead to loss of life. 

What affects the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream?

Multiple different factors determine how much alcohol is in your bloodstream and how quickly it is removed from your body. Factors include: 

  • On your size 
  • Your sex
  • How much food you’ve eaten 
  • Your liver health 
  • Your metabolism 
  • The amount you’ve drunk

As these factors can change from person to person and differ between drinking sessions, there’s no specific amount of time to wait that can guarantee that you have expelled enough alcohol. 

That said, there is an average baseline that you can use to help you determine if you’re likely to be okay. The average male removes one unit of alcohol from his body every hour. With this formula, you can work out a rough estimate of how long you need to wait as long as you can remember how much you drank. 

If you had 4 pints of larger with an ABV of 4% the evening before, you would have consumed around 9.2 units. This means you need to wait at least 9 hours and 20 minutes until all the alcohol has left your body. 

If you’re smaller than average, female, have a low metabolism or didn’t eat much while drinking, then you should modify this basic formula and add a few more hours onto it to play it safe. 

How do I know if I’ve waited long enough? 

The truth is that there’s no way of knowing if you’re under the limit without testing. Even if you feel fine, you could still have too much alcohol in your system, making your driving worse and putting you at risk of getting into trouble. 

To play it super safe, it’s a good idea to invest in your own breathalyser that you can keep in your car to check your alcohol levels each time you want to drive after drinking alcohol. This will give you complete peace of mind and ensure you know for certain if you can drive or need to wait a few more hours. 

Breathalysers are widely available to the UK public, with many motoring stores like Halfrods selling them. You can get cheap, single-use breathalysers that are useful if you don’t drive often after drinking the night before, or you can purchase a multi-use, professional-grade option. This is recommended for those who drive for a living, such as couriers, taxi drivers, and ambulance drivers.  

Can you speed up the sobering process? 

Despite there being many myths and wives’ tales about how you can speed up the release of alcohol from your body, nothing other than the passage of time is going to affect how long it takes for the alcohol to be removed. 

Things like drinking coffee and taking a cold shower may help relieve the symptoms of alcohol and make you feel less hungover, but it doesn’t mean the alcohol has left your body. 

Many people have also turned to IV drips to help them recover from hangovers faster, as they can help replenish fluids lost during drinking. Again, despite these helping you feel better, it won’t affect how much alcohol is in your bloodstream; only time will affect that, which is why you need to wait the adequate time. 


Drink driving is a serious offence, so you must do what you can to ensure you’ve waited the appropriate amount of time. Ideally, it’s best not to drive for at least 24 hours after drinking, but if you need to drive the day after, it’s best to calculate how much time you have to wait based on the amount you drank. 

Many online calculators can help you work out how long you should wait before getting behind the wheel, and you can also work it out yourself by figuring out how many units of alcohol you consumed. 

An average person should wait around 9 hours before driving after light drinking, and even more if it was a heavy session. For peace of mind, test yourself with a breathalyser so that you never run the risk of driving when over the limit. 

Alexander Thomas
Alexander Thomas
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