• 1.6 million adults aged over 55 admit to drink driving
  • A further 3.6 million over 55s say they have driven when they may have been over the limit
  • The most common excuse for drink driving among over 55s is that it was ‘only a short journey’ – cited by 1.2 million drivers

New research1 from Direct Line Motor Insurance reveals the worrying problem of drink driving amongst over 55s.  More than 1.6 million motorists over the age of 55 admits to having driven while over the limit.  However, the research suggests that the full scale of the problem could be even greater, with a further 3.6 million drivers over the age of 55 saying they think they could have been over the limit when driving.

When it comes to reasons why older people drive when they have been drinking, over-confidence seems to play a part as 1.2 million of those aged over 55 stated the trip was only over a short distance. Over three quarters of a million of these older motorists admit that they got behind the wheel when they could still have been drunk from the night before.

The research shows that people still don’t understand the impact alcohol has on the body, as 1.1 million drivers over 55 believe that men can drink more than women and be safe to drive, when in reality it is down to a variety of factors such as, but not limited to weight, medications and diet2. A further one million over 55s believed eating a large meal before driving would negate the effects of alcohol and worryingly 552,000 believe that older people are safer drivers anyway, so it is less dangerous if they drink drive.

Older driver safety is a key issue, as Direct Line’s analysis of Department for Transport data reveals 26 per cent of all road accidents in 2017 (45,500 out of 175,000) involved older drivers3.

Steve Barrett, head of motor insurance at Direct Line, commented: “It is clear that younger drivers are not the only offenders when it comes to drink driving.  Motorists may become complacent as they get older because they feel they are so experienced behind the wheel, but tolerance levels differ hugely depending on body type. Just because someone doesn’t feel drunk or is only driving a short distance does not mean they are safe to drive.

“It isn’t just the safety of the driver and passengers in their car that are at risk if a driver is over the limit, it is everyone else on the road too.  We strongly advise that anyone who has consumed alcohol regardless of age, gender or weight seeks alternative means of transport.”

Regional Analysis

In the North East of England almost one in five (19 per cent) adults who failed a police breathalyser test were aged over 50 – the highest proportion in the country.  This was followed by the North West (18 per cent), the East of England (18 per cent) and South East (17 per cent).   Yorkshire and the Humber (9 per cent) has the lowest proportion of failed breath tests being taken by over 50s. The South East had the highest number of over 50s who failed a breathalyser test in 2017, accounting for over a fifth (22 per cent) of all failed tests by over 50s in England.

While much media attention is paid to younger drink drivers, with those aged 20-34 accounting for more than half of all failed breathalyser tests in Great Britain, very little attention is paid to older drink drivers, who account for one in seven (15 per cent) failed breath tests.