Drink Driving Law

The facts about drinking and driving

Many people have an idea about the laws on drink driving, but it’s best to be absolutely sure of what the facts are. Driving over the limit is a serious crime, and it can lead to disaster - the seriousness of the punishments for drink driving reflect this.

When can the police require a breath test?

Anyone who is driving, attempting to drive, or in charge of a motor vehicle, whether it be on the road or in a public place (for example a pub car park or a garage forecourt), may be required by the police to provide a breath test, in order to check that they are under the prescribed limit of alcohol, which stands at 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath (or 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood).

Only a police officer can make this request. The officer no longer has to be in uniform to require a preliminary test (breath test), but he does have to be uniformed to administer it (unless after an accident). The request can only be made in one of the following scenarios:

  1. The police officer has reasonable cause to suspect that you have committed, or are currently committing, a moving traffic offence;
  2. Having stopped them, an officer has reasonable cause to suspect that the person driving/attempting to drive/in charge of the vehicle has consumed alcohol;
  3. The police officer has reasonable cause to believe that you were the person driving/attempting to drive/in charge of a motor vehicle which was involved in an accident.

This means the police cannot simply stop you at any time and insist on a breath test. They are entitled to randomly stop your car, but they can only insist on a breath test in one of the cases described above.

What happens if the roadside test is positive, or you refuse, or you can't give the necessary sample?

If your test comes out positive, or you won’t or can’t give the sample, you will be arrested and taken to the police station. There you will usually be asked to provide two specimens of breath for analysis (using approved evidential instruments — either an Intoximeter EC/IR, Lion Intoxilyzer or Camic Datamaster).

If the two readings are different then the police are bound to take the lower reading. In the event that the reading is in excess of the prescribed limit you will have committed an offence and will be charged.

It is not your right to choose to give a urine or blood sample instead. Failing to provide a sample without a reasonable excuse is punished as severely as being caught driving over the limit - depending on whether you were in charge of the vehicle or actually driving, you could find yourself disqualified from driving and even spending six months in jail.

A medical condition which prevents you from giving enough breath for the machine to give a reading, may be accepted as an excuse - if you believe you may not be able to give a reading, you should inform the officer as soon as possible. Being too drunk to provide a sample is not a reasonable excuse.

You may be requested to give a sample of blood or urine as an alternative to a breath test in the event that:

  1. The Police officer has reasonable cause to believe that, for medical reasons, a breath sample cannot or should not be taken;
  2. At the time there is no reliable approved device for taking breath samples available or it is not practicable to use that device;
  3. The officer has reasonable cause to believe that the device has not produced a reliable indication of the level of alcohol;
  4. The officer, through a preliminary test, has reasonable cause to believe you have taken drugs;
  5. The police officer has been advised by a doctor or other medical practitioner that your condition might be due to drugs being taken. 

See our Failing to Provide a Specimen section for more information.

What happens if my reading is close to the limit?

If you score 39 micrograms or less with the lower of your readings, then you can expect to be released without charge or with a caution. If the lower reading falls between 40 and 50 micrograms, the police have to present you with the option of giving a specimen of blood or urine as an alternative.

You should be asked whether you would prefer to give blood or urine, but ultimately it is for the police to choose which one they offer you, unless there is a medical condition which would make either option unfeasible. The police are not able to take a blood sample without your agreement, but if you refuse this option once it is offered then the police are entitled to rely on the breath sample which was taken.

If giving a urine sample you will be requested to give two samples. Any blood sample must usually be taken by a police surgeon. You have a right to have two blood samples taken which it is wise to take advantage of.

What happens if you are charged?

If it turns out that the police charge you, the charge will be read out to you along with the customary warning about saying things which may later be given in evidence. Thereafter you will be asked to sign the Charge Sheet, a copy of which will be provided to you. Normally you will be bailed to attend court on a specified date, i.e. you will be free until that date.

Naturally as you will be in an inebriated state the police will not allow you to drive home from the station. You are however free to drive until the date of your court hearing. Any ban you incur in court will come into effect immediately.

If I get a ban can I get my licence back before the ban ends?

If you have received a very lengthy driving disqualification it is possible to apply to the Court that imposed the disqualification for early removal of the disqualification.

If the original disqualification was for less than 4 years then after 2 years have been served you may be able to get your licence back early through an application. If the disqualification was for more than 4 years but less than 10 years then you can apply after half of the disqualification period has been served. If the disqualification is for 10 years or more you can apply after serving 5 years of the disqualification.

To do so, you will need to convince a court that you have a good reason to seek an early return of your licence, and that you can be trusted not to commit any further offences. For example:
  • You have gotten a new job or promotion, and you need to drive
  • You are moving to a rural location meaning greater necessity of a car
  • You have completed alcohol abuse treatment, and are therefore committed to not drink driving again.

If you need legal advice regarding drink driving, our Instant Law Line service can quickly put you in touch with a lawyer, giving you access to legal advice over the telephone at an affordable price.

List of Drink Driving Offences

Failing to provide a roadside breath test (Code DR70)

  • Penalty - Fine - up to Level 3 (£1,000)
  • 4 penalty points on your licence
  • Disqualification is at the discretion of the Court

Driving/Attempting to Drive with excess alcohol (DR10)

  • Penalty - Fine - up to Level 5 (£5,000) and/or up to 6 months imprisonment
  • Mandatory disqualification for at least 12 months for first offence
  • Mandatory disqualification for at least 3 years for second offence within 10 years.

Being in charge of a motor vehicle with excess alcohol (DR40)

  • Penalty - Fine - up to Level 4 (£2,500) and/or up to 3 months imprisonment
  • 10 penalty points on your licence
  • Disqualification is at the discretion of the Court

After Driving/Attempting to drive then refusing to provide samples for analysis (DR30)

  • Penalty - Fine - up to Level 5 (£5,000) and/or 6 months imprisonment
  • Mandatory disqualification for at least 12 months for first offence (18 months tends to be the norm as you are considered to have been trying to avoid being found guilty)
  • Mandatory disqualification for at least 3 years for second offence within 10 years

After being in charge refusing to provide samples for analysis (DR60)

  • Penalty - Fine - Level 4 (£2,500) and/or 3 months imprisonment
  • 10 penalty points on your licence
  • Disqualification is at the discretion of the Court
If you have been charged with a drink driving offence, our Drink Driving Penalty Calculator can give you an idea of the punishment you could face if convicted.

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