Direct Line magazine

Drink & Drug Safety Guide For Young Drivers

Updated on: 18 September 2023

A UK police car

Passing your driving test can be an exciting time. But statistically, it’s also pretty dangerous. In fact, one in five drivers crash within a year of passing their test, according to Brake, a road safety charity. While not all new drivers are young drivers, the higher level of risk for young, new drivers seems to be down to the combination of youth and inexperience.

Younger adults are also more likely to be a casualty of a drink-drive accident, accounting for 24% of them back in 2018, according to statistics used in a parliamentary report. However, the report does show that longer-term trends suggests young people are generally drinking less than in the past:

  • In 2005, there were 430 reported cases of a young driver or rider killed or seriously injured while over the legal alcohol limit.
  • In 2018, there were 160 reported cases[1] . 

While this could suggest a change in the attitudes and actions of young drivers, it’s always important to raise awareness of drink, drugs and the laws of driving.

Raising awareness of safety for young drivers

In the UK, teenagers can drive legally at 17. There are some tougher restrictions on new drivers – for example, in their first two years of gaining a licence, drivers can lose their licence if they acquire six penalty points rather than the 12-point limit for other drivers. 

But generally, once you’ve passed your test, young drivers are out on the roads like anyone else. So, what makes them more risky? The following behaviours can be factors:

  • Driving with passengers. According to ROSPA, driving with a car full of passengers of a similar age increases the risk of a fatal accident for newly-qualified drivers by four times, compared to driving alone. Passengers can be distracting or encourage risky behaviour.
  • Driving at night. Young drivers tend to drive at night more than the average person. It’s a very different experience driving at night-time compared to during the day, and not every new driver gets enough practice during their lessons.
  • Driving on rural roads. According to the AA, 71% of fatal crashes involving young drivers occur on rural roads. These tend to be quiet, windy, single-lane roads. Many people drive too fast or have limited experience on rural roads.

These factors aren’t necessarily dangerous by themselves – but add in inexperience, and a potential desire in some young people to show off among friends, and it becomes clear why younger drivers may be at more risk.

There’s also the reality that some young drivers engage in risky behaviours too, such as: 

  • Speeding. The risks of speeding shouldn't be underestimated. Crashes are much more likely to be serious or fatal at speed. When speeding, drivers don’t have the control and reaction times to respond to situations properly.
  • Using a phone. Mobile phones are a distraction. Although it‘s legal to use a phone hands-free, it isn’t recommended for inexperienced drivers. A car driven at 30mph travels about three car lengths in one second – when you look at your phone or even take your hands off the wheel to grab your phone, you can travel quite far without being alert to any hazards.
  • Driving under the influence. Drinking any amount of alcohol before driving can increase your risk of an accident, but going over the legal limits is really dangerous.
  • Not wearing a seat belt. Seat belts are there to keep the driver and passengers safe. You’re required by law to wear a seat belt and could face being issued a Fixed Penalty Notice of £100 or face a maximum penalty of £500 if taken to court.
  • Having too many distractions. Trying to drive with a car full of passengers and the music turned up is difficult for anyone – especially new, young drivers. Research has shown that music can have an impact on driver safety, yet over a million young motorists say they’ve listened to music that makes them feel angry or aggressive while driving.

Getting your driving licence is an exciting time, but it should also be seen as a responsibility. Young drivers need to be aware of what is – and isn’t – safe driving behaviour.

Young driver statistics 

The statistics around young drivers are quite alarming. According to Brake, road traffic crashes are the main cause of death among those aged 15-29 years globally. Accidents can happen for a number of reasons, including the fault of other drivers. We can only be responsible for our own driving habits. However, the actions of some young drivers are worrying:

  • When self-reporting, drivers in their 20s have the highest rate of driving when over the drink-drive limit of all age groups.
  • The younger the driver, the more likely to report having driven when under the influence of illegal drugs.

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is one of the riskiest things you can do as a driver – no matter your age.

The risks of driving under the influence 

Driving safely requires concentration, good judgement and an ability to react quickly. Any alcohol in your bloodstream can impact these skills. When you drink, it becomes riskier to drive because:

  • Your reaction times are slower
  • You lack coordination
  • Your concentration levels are affected
  • Your vision will be worse, including altered depth perception and peripheral vision
  • Your judgement will be impaired
  • You’re more likely to take risks

Alcohol is a depressant, which means that when it reaches the brain, it slows the body’s systems down. As it is absorbed into your bloodstream, alcohol can quickly cause various effects in the body.

Drugs can also affect the body in various ways, all of which make it much harder to drive safely.

Driving safety rules: what the law says about drink and drugs

Laws exist to keep us safe. When we set off in our cars, we agree to follow the Highway Code and other laws or face the consequences.

Legal alcohol limits 

Drivers have to follow strict alcohol limits, but research has shown 79% of young people do not know the legal drink drive limit.

The limits are:

Level of alcohol

England, Wales and Northern Ireland


Micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath



Milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood



Milligrammes per 100 millilitres of urine




But how many drinks does this equate to? Well, the Government says it’s impossible to say. It’s different for each person. So, while there are some estimates out there, it’s important to be cautious. Alcohol can affect you differently depending on: 

  • The type of alcohol
  • The amount of alcohol
  • Your weight, age, sex and metabolism
  • Whether and what you’ve eaten
  • Your stress levels 

It’s important to remember that alcohol can start to affect many of your senses after only one drink. If you decide that it’s safe to have a certain number of drinks, you may be putting yourself at risk of being over the legal limits.

You could be stopped by the police at any point and asked to take a breath test if they think you’ve been drinking. You could also be asked to take a breath test if you’ve committed a traffic offence or have been involved in a road traffic accident. The breath test gives a result straight away. Then one of the following may happen:

  • If the test shows you’re not over the drink drive limit, you should be allowed to go
  • If you refuse to take the breath test, you can be arrested and charged with an offence
  • If you fail the test, you’ll be taken to a police station and given another test
    • If it’s positive, you’ll be charged

If you’re charged for drink driving, you could face:

  • Up to six months’ imprisonment
  • An unlimited fine
  • A driving ban

The penalty you get will depend on your offence and is down to the magistrates who hear your case. They may offer you a drink-drive rehabilitation scheme (DDRS) course.

The rules on illegal drugs

The laws on drugs are designed to control the non-medical use of certain drugs, and the use of drugs with no current medical use. Illegal drugs in the UK include:

  • Class A drugs, such as cocaine, MDMA, heroin and LSD
  • Class B drugs, such as amphetamine, cannabis, codeine, ketamine and synthetic cannabinoids
  • Class C drugs, such as anabolic steroids, minor tranquillisers and benzodiazepines

According to, it is illegal to drive if either:

  • You’re unfit to do so because you’re on legal or illegal drugs
  • You have certain levels of illegal drugs in your blood (even if they have not affected your driving)

If the police see you driving and suspect that you’re on drugs, they can stop you and make you do a field impairment test. This is a series of tests they can carry out at the side of the road, including a drug kit to screen you for cannabis and cocaine.

If after this they suspect you’re unfit to drive because of being under the influence of drugs, you’ll be arrested. You’ll have to do a blood and urine test at the police station.

If you’re convicted of drug driving, the penalties could be:

  • A minimum one year driving ban
  • An unlimited fine
  • Up to six months in prison
  • A criminal record

Your driving licence will show that you’ve been convicted for drug driving for 11 years. This could mean your car insurance costs will increase and any employers can see your conviction.

What to consider with legal drugs

Legal drugs could be medication you’ve been prescribed to take or medicines available to buy over the counter. It’s illegal to drive with any legal drug in your system if it impairs your driving. It’s also illegal to drive with an amount of certain drugs in your system which you have not been prescribed.

In the same way as if you’re suspected of driving with illegal drugs in your system, the police can stop you if they think you’re unfit to drive.

Under advice, you should talk to your doctor about driving if you’ve been prescribed any of the following drugs:

  • Amphetamine
  • Clonazepam
  • Diazepam
  • Flunitrazepam
  • Lorazepam
  • Methadone
  • Morphine or opiate and opioid-based drugs
  • Oxazepam
  • Temazepam

You can still drive after taking these drugs. It’s just incredibly important to follow the advice on how to take them from your doctor or other healthcare professional. This will ensure they are not making you unfit to drive.

General advice for young drivers and passengers

General statistics might not paint young drivers (or passengers) in the best light. But we understand that there’s plenty of new drivers out there who want to be responsible on the roads. No-one sets out to be a danger to others, but a lack of experience can lead to poor choices. The following sections outline some advice for making more informed decisions – for young drivers and their parents.

Deciding when it’s not safe to get in a car

Driving yourself or getting a lift is one of the most convenient ways to get about. But that doesn’t always mean it’s the safest. Ask yourself: 

  • Are you too tired to drive?
  • Have you had too much to drink?
  • Have you checked any warnings on medication?
  • Are you stressed, overwhelmed or otherwise distracted?

The same goes if you’re a passenger and you see any of the above warning signs in the driver. You can gently remind them it may not be the best choice to drive and suggest getting a train or sharing a taxi. Ultimately it’s your choice to get into a car with a driver, so feel free to politely excuse yourself and find another mode of transport.

Encouraging good habits among friends  

Being the first among your friends to pass your driving test is often quite challenging. You’re the one who can finally take everyone to places where you previously had to rely on buses, trains or lifts from parents. Your friends who don’t drive may not understand the difficulty of having a car full of passengers while having to navigate the roads without an instructor for the first time.

We hear a lot about the dangers of peer pressure and how it can make younger people do silly or even dangerous things. But it can also encourage the right kinds of behaviour too. If your group of friends all stick to good habits, the overall risk is much lower. For example, if everyone supports the driver in not drinking on a night out when they’re driving home, they’re much more likely to stick to it.

Other good habits of responsible passengers include:

  • Wearing a seatbelt
  • Limiting the music or noise
  • Taking it in turns to do lifts where possible
  • Relying on other modes of transport when necessary
  • Not pressuring the designated driver into risky behaviour

Considerations for parents

Naturally, parents will worry about their children driving on their own or with friends. But they have to start driving at some point. To put your mind at ease, think about these considerations:

  • Set a good example. Do you think you’re a good driver? Well, your kids will have noticed your habits – so make sure they’re good ones. With three million adults admitting to drink driving with kids in the car, it’s time to get tough on how you drive.
  • Practice with them. If possible, while your children are learning to drive, get in extra practice with them. It should help you feel more confident letting them go out alone once they’ve passed their driving test.
  • Ask them to text once they’ve got somewhere. Of course, you don’t want to encourage them to use their phone while driving. But many parents ask for a quick text once their children have safely arrived at a destination.
  • Consider a black box. Many insurance companies offer black boxes. It’s telematics technology which can monitor speed, driving style and other factors. Black boxes can also be used to set curfews so young drivers aren’t able to drive during high-risk hours – for example, late at night. Not only does this give parents peace of mind, but young drivers abiding by the rules can be given discounts on their insurance.

Related articles

Lane Keep Assist

What is Lane Assist and does your car need it?

The amount of technology you can find in cars nowadays is astonishing - including lane keep assist and lane departure warning. Find out how they both improve safety, their similarities, their cost and their real value to a driver.
A couple share a drink on their sofa.

Drink Driving: the day after the night before

Been out partying? Or just enjoyed a bottle of wine in front of the TV? You can still be over the limit the next day and it may be too dangerous to drive. If caught, you'll face the same convictions as you would if you were driving at night.
woman at steering wheel with eyes closed

Do I need to disclose a medical condition to drive?

If you develop a medical condition or disability, or you have a condition that's worsened, you need to inform the DVLA. It includes anything which could affect your ability to drive safely, such as diabetes and heart conditions.