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What to Do if Caught Drink Driving

Driving over the limit is a serious crime, and it can lead to disaster – the seriousness of the punishments for drink driving reflect this.

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Drink driving limits

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. Depending on circumstances, you be also required to take a blood or urine test.

Breath test limit Urine test limit Blood test limit
35 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath (22 micrograms in Scotland) 107 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine (67 milligrammes in Scotland) 80 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood (50 milligrammes in Scotland)

When can the police require a breath test?

Only a police officer can request a breath test. 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.

Failure to provide a specimen of breath, blood or urine

When a specimen of breath, blood or urine is requested by a policeman, it is an offence to refuse, regardless of whether the request is made by the side of the road or in a police station. Nonetheless, you may be able to put up a valid defence against being convicted if you are able to show that there was a valid reason for your refusal.

Reasons that could be accepted may include such things as breathing problems in the case of breath tests, or a fear of needles if they were intending to take a blood sample. While these reasons certainly may stand up in court, it is vital that you get legal advice.

If you are convicted of failure to provide a specimen, you may face a fine of up to £5,000, and could be banned from driving for a minimum period of 12 months (or 3 years if you have been found guilty of drink-driving or another alcohol-related crime within the previous 10 years).

Additionally, more serious offences may leave you looking at a prison sentence of up to six months.

What happens if the roadside test is positive, or I refuse, or I 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.

If the two readings are different then the police must use the lower reading and ignore the higher one. 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.

What happens if the 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 I am 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 – this means 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. If you are banned on the day of your court date, that ban will come into effect immediately.

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, you may be able to apply to get your licence back after 2 years. If the disqualification was for more than 4 years but less than 10 years then you can apply after you have served half of the disqualification period. 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.

It is possible to appeal against such a decision in a Magistrates’ Court within the time limit specified on the decision letter sent by the DVLA. However, the Court will require you to demonstrate non-usage of cannabis for six months as per the DVLA guidelines before your licence can be reinstated.

Drink driving in Scotland

Drink driving limits were reduced in Scotland in 2014, meaning that you could now be arrested and charged for having an amount of alcohol in your system which would not get you in trouble in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland.

Drug Driving

Driving while unfit through drugs is as serious an offence as drink driving – it comes with a driving ban of at least 12 months, and can also include a fine of up to £5,000 and up to 6 months in prison.

If you are stopped by police and they suspect you of having taken drugs, they can put you through a Field Impairment Assessment. If this assessment leads them to believe that you have taken drugs, they will arrest you and take you to the station for a drug test. If the blood test indicates that you have drugs in your system, they can charge you.

Under current drug driving laws, there are no legal limits for the amount of drugs detected in your system – if you are considered impaired, you are breaking the law. This is set to change soon, with the introduction of specific limits for certain controlled drugs, including cannabis, cocaine, and ecstasy. This will make it an offence to drive with these drugs in your system above a certain (low) limit, regardless of whether you are impaired or not. This change is set to come into effect in March 2015.

Bear in mind that you can be charged with drug driving if the drugs that impair you are not controlled – over-the-counter medicines, for example.

Habitual use of cannabis

One of the requirements for maintaining your legal entitlement to drive is that you be considered fit to operate a vehicle under the standards adhered to by the Drivers Medical Group in the DVLA. These standards are established by the Honorary Medical Advisory Panel, a group of medical experts from a wide range of disciplines, who advise the Department of Transport on such matters. The Department of Transport then provide this information to the DVLA who use it as the basis of their Guide to Medical Standards of Fitness to Drive.

One of the standards set out in the Guide states that habitual use of cannabis, when confirmed by a medical investigation, renders one unfit to drive. In effect, this will lead to either refusal or revocation of the driving licence of affected individuals.

This driving ban lasts for a minimum of six months, during which the driver in question must be proven to have not used the drug in order to stand a chance of being granted the entitlement to drive again. This will usually have to be verified through independent medical investigation and urine tests, arranged through the DVLA.

Drink drive rehabilitation courses

If you are convicted of an offence involving drinking and driving, the magistrate, or sheriff in Scotland, may offer you the opportunity of attending a rehabilitation course.

If you complete the course, it will reduce your disqualification period by up to a quarter – for example, a 1 year period of disqualification would be reduced to 9 months. The court will decide the length of reduction for longer periods of disqualification.

If the magistrate or sheriff believes you may benefit from attending a rehabilitation course, he or she will ask you if you are prepared to accept a referral to the local course organiser. You will need to pay to go on the course – the fee will be set by the course organiser, and you will be told the course fee by the magistrate, or sheriff in Scotland.

Before making a referral order the magistrate or sheriff will ensure that you are at least 17 years of age; that a place is available on a local course; that you are fully aware of the effect of the order including the payment required for attending the course, and that you have agreed that the order should be made.

If you agree to the referral, you will be informed of the arrangements for the rehabilitation course either at court or by being contacted by the local course organiser. Arrangements for courses will vary from area to area. Typically, courses will last between 16 and 30 hours in total, made up of a number of separate sessions. Each course will probably have some 8 to 20 participants.

The rehabilitation course is not intended to punish you further; you will already have been disqualified and probably fined for your offence. The purpose of the course is to teach you about the effects of alcohol consumption.

A range of issues will be covered, including information about alcohol and its effect on the body; the effect of alcohol consumption on performance, particularly driving ability, and behaviour; analysis of drink/driving offences; alternatives to drinking and driving future action and sources of advice.

The content of courses run by different organisers may vary but is likely to involve short lectures; group discussion; role play; assessment of personal drinking habits and presentations by policemen, lawyers or doctors.

Successful completion of the course depends on regular attendance, payment of the fees in advance and compliance with the course organiser’s reasonable requirements. When you have completed the course you will be given a Certificate of Completion to present to the court. The court will then notify the DVLA of your reduced disqualification period.

The course must be completed at least two months before the end of the reduced period of disqualification to allow the Agency time to take account of the reduction. The Agency cannot deal with your application for the return of your licence until the court has advised them of the reduced period of disqualification. The final possible date for completion will be specified in the original referral order issued by the court.

If you fail to comply with the conditions for completing the course, the course organiser may refuse to issue a Certificate of Completion. In this case, a Notice of Non-Completion will be given to you, although you may appeal to the court if you do not think this is justified. If the court believes you are right it will issue a declaration which will have the same effect as a Certificate of Completion.

If you are offered a place on a rehabilitation course and have any questions, ask the magistrate or sheriff when you are sentenced or talk to the court administrators or your solicitor.

Summary of the Scheme

  • If convicted of a drink/drive offence you may be offered the opportunity to attend a rehabilitation course.
  • It is for you to decide whether to accept this offer.
  • You will be required to pay for the course
  • If you satisfactorily complete the course your period of disqualification will be reduced by up to a quarter
  • The court will decide whether to offer you a place on a rehabilitation course, and, if so, by how much the period of disqualification will be reduced.

Information from the leaflet “Rehabilitation Course for Drink Drivers” published by the Department of the Environment, Transport & the Regions 1998.

Drink Drive Rehabilitation Course Providers

The Albert Centre – based in Middlesbrough and covering the north east

Drink Driver Education – dde has over 25 years experience in alcohol/drug education. They offer courses throughout Bucks, Berks, Oxon, Surrey, Hillingdon (Uxbridge), and NE & NW Hants. Some useful background info available on their website.

Drivewise – DriveWise provide courses for a number of courts in South East England and Norfolk.

HAPAS – Hertfordshire Alcohol Problem Advisory Service

Reform – South, East and West Yorkshire; North Lincolnshire

TTC – One of the UK’s major providers of DD Rehab Courses, covering the Midlands, Wales and the North. Approved by the DETR since 1993. Full course details and online booking available on their website.

VMCL – Courses provided throughout England and Scotland.

Get protection for your licence

Licence Assist from DAS offers a number of benefits to make sure you are protected if you are facing having your licence taken away. This service gives you legal advice on any motoring matter, as well as cover for legal defence costs and a fixed monthly benefit if you lose your licence.


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