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Written on 9th August 2023 by Kim Milan

The Department for Transport’s (DfT) latest round up of road collision (RTA) casualties in 2021 shows a worrying increase in deaths and serious injuries caused by drink-driving on British roads. They estimate that drink-drive collisions caused more than 6,740 injuries across all severities, with the number of fatalities (260) reaching a 12-year-high. 

The RAC responded by saying that the figures must provide “a wake-up call” to the government and the police about the need for effective enforcement of drink-driving laws and increased breathalysing at the roadside, reiterating their message that ‘drink-driving ruins lives’.

What is a drink-drive collision?

The government’s RTA statistics define a drink-drive collision as a reported incident on a public road in which someone is killed or injured, where at least one of the motor vehicle drivers or riders involved:

  • failed a roadside breath test by registering above 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100ml of breath in England and Wales or 22 micrograms in Scotland;
  • refused to give a breath test specimen when asked by the police (unless they could not for medical reasons);
  • died within 12 hours of the collision and was later found to have more than the legal limit of alcohol in their blood.

The drink-drive alcohol limit in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is 80mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood. This is higher than anywhere else in Europe, where no other country’s limit exceeds 50mg/100ml. Scotland reduced its legal drink-drive alcohol limit to 50mg/100ml in 2014.

How are injuries categorised after RTA collisions?

Government statistics, including those used by the Department for Transport (DfT) and the police, describe all types of road users who are killed or injured in drink-drive collisions as drink-drive casualties. The word ‘casualty’ is used to describe anyone who is killed or injured in a road traffic accident (RTA) or collision. For reporting purposes, casualties are often sub-divided to differentiate between those who were killed (fatalities), seriously injured and slightly injured.

  • Fatalities refer to casualties who sustained injuries which caused their death less than 30 days after the collision.
  • Serious injuries include fractures, head injury/concussion, internal injuries, crushing, burns (excluding friction burns), severe cuts, shock which requires medical treatment, or any injury requiring inpatient hospital admission. Injuries which cause the person’s death 30 or more days after the collision are also categorised as serious injuries.
  • Slight injuries generally refer to minor injuries such as sprains, whiplash, minor cuts and bruises and slight shock needing roadside attention, or injuries which do not require medical treatment.

Headline statistics from DfT’s latest drink-drive casualty report

DfT’s ‘Reported road casualties in Great Britain involving illegal alcohol levels 2021’ reveals that in 2021 an estimated 260 people lost their lives in fatal, drink-drive collisions where at least one driver was over the legal alcohol limit. The estimate is based on reports by coroners (and, in Scotland, procurators fiscal) for 78% of the drivers or riders who were killed in road traffic collisions in that year, and breath tests taken at the accident scene from living drivers. This represents around 17% (or just under 1 in 6) of all deaths in reported road collisions in 2021 and the highest number of drink-drive-related fatalities in 12 years, since 2009.

A further 1,610 people were seriously injured in drink-drive crashes in 2021. DfT estimates that, in total, around 1,880 people suffered fatal or serious injuries from drink-drive collisions in 2021, an increase of 23% from the fatal and seriously injured drive-drive casualties in 2020. Overall, DfT estimates that 6,740 people were killed or suffered injuries across all severities in drink-drive collisions in Britain in 2021, an increase of 4% from 2020.

Further analysis of these shocking figures shows that 5% (or 1 in 20) of all RTA collision casualties in Britain in 2021 involved at least one driver or rider who was over the legal alcohol limit.

Nearly 4 out of 5 (79%) drink-drive collisions involved male drivers or riders over the legal alcohol limit and 68% of the casualties in drink-drive collisions were male. 64% of casualties in drink-drive collisions were aged between 25 and 59, with 24% aged 16 to 24, and 8% over 60 years of age.

Wales had the highest percentage (7.3%) of road collision casualties involving drink-driving in Britain, compared with England (5.2%) and Scotland (4.1%).

Overall, the latest figures show that the percentage of road casualties, whether fatalities, serious or slight injuries, that were related to drink-driving has increased over the last few years. Breath test data has also shown an increase in drink-driving, with 6% of drivers failing breath tests when they were tested after road collisions in 2020/21, double the 3% figure from ten years earlier in 2011.

DfT notes that the number of reported drink-drive collisions, and casualties they caused, are likely to have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021. National restrictions during periods of 2020 and 2021 led to a reduction in traffic and collisions but could also have had an impact on driver behaviour.

Rehabilitation and compensation for injured victims of drink-driving RTA collisions

Sudden, severe injury or loss of a loved one in a road traffic collision always has a devastating impact on the individual and their family. Speeding, carelessness, risk-taking or lapses in driver concentration all amount to negligent driving behaviour, but collisions fuelled by drink-driving add insult to injury and are among the hardest for the victims and their families to come to terms with. 

In the immediate aftermath of a severe RTA injury, whether to a driver, rider, cyclist, passenger or pedestrian, our experienced personal injury specialists can provide meaningful guidance and support, including access to personalised and coordinated funded rehabilitation to maximise recovery, substantial interim payments to ease financial hardship, and compensation settlements which fully meet the individual’s needs into the future.

In cases of severe injury, even where fault (liability) for the accident remains unclear, we always recommend that the family contact us as soon as possible for straightforward, non-judgmental advice, so that we can investigate and provide support and guidance straight away.  Compensation is often available, but may be significantly reduced, for severely injured passengers who allowed themselves to be driven by a driver whom they knew or suspected was over the legal drink-drive or drug-driving limit.   

If you have been seriously injured in an accident that was someone else’s fault and you would like to find out more about funded rehabilitation or making a claim, you can talk to one of our experienced solicitors, free and confidentially, by contacting us here.