Drink Driving UK Law History

History of UK drink driving law

A History of Drink Driving & Motoring Laws in the UK

Some key dates on drink driving laws & motoring in the UK

The information below provides details on some key points in the history of drink driving laws and motoring in the UK along with the corresponding year/date.

Drink Driving Related History = Drink Driving Related History Drink Driving Related History = Motoring Related History

1872 Drink Driving Related History

The Year of 1872

1872 Licensing Act

In 1872 it became an offence to be drunk while in charge of carriages, horses, cattle and steam engines!! The penalty for which was a fine not exceeding 40 shillings OR at the discretion of the court, imprisonment with or without hard labour for a term not exceeding one month.

1896 Motoring Related History

The Year of 1896

British Motoring History Begins

January 14th 1896 saw the formation of Daimler Motor Company Ltd. This was the UK's first serial production motor car company. They produced 89 vehicles in the first 8 months of production from their site in Coventry. The British motor industry had officially begun!

1899 Motoring Related History

The Year of 1899

First Fatal Motor Car Accident in Britain

The year of 1899 saw the first fatal motor car accident in Britain. The rear wheel of a 6HP Daimler collapsed and two men named Edwin Sewell and Major Richer were thrown from the vehicle and died as a result. The accident happened at Grove Hill in Harrow.

1925 Drink Driving Related History

The Year of 1925

1925 Criminal Justice Act

In 1925 it became an offence to be found drunk in charge of ANY mechanically propelled vehicle on any highway or other public place. The penalty for which was a fine not exceeding 50 pounds and/or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 4 months as well as a disqualification from holding a driving licence for a minimum period of 12 months.

1930 Drink Driving Related History

The Year of 1930

1930 Road Traffic Act

In 1930 it became an offence to drive, attempt to drive or be in charge of a motor vehicle on a road or any other public place while being "under the influence of drink or a drug to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the vehicle". No legal drink driving limit was set until 1967.

1960 Drink Driving Related History

The Year of 1960

1960 Road Traffic Act

In 1960 it became an offence to drive, attempt to drive or be in charge of a motor vehicle on a road or other public place while "unfit to drive through drink or drugs". No legal drink driving limit was set until 1967.

1962 Drink Driving Related History

The Year of 1962

1962 Road Traffic Act (aka The Marples Act)

In 1962 it became an offence for any person to drive, attempt to drive or be in charge of a motor vehicle if their "ability to drive properly was for the time being impaired". No legal drink driving limit was set until 1967.

The possibility of using blood, urine or breath for alcohol analysis was approached in the Road Traffic Act of 1962 (aka The Marples Act), it was not considered to be an offence to fail/refuse to supply a breath, blood or urine specimen. However, failing to do so without reasonable cause could "be treated as supporting any evidence given on behalf of the prosecution, or as rebutting any evidence given on behalf of the defence".

Before this act was introduced successful drink driving prosecutions relied heavily upon the subjective tests and observations of so called 'police surgeons' and other evidence such as witness statements alongside any statements made by the accused.

1964 Drink Driving Related History

The Year of 1964

Accidents, Alcohol and Risk Study

A study entitled Grand Rapids Effects Revisited: Accidents, Alcohol and Risk funded by the U.S public health service and the Licensed Beverage Industries of New York was carried out in 1964, the study showed that 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood was the level at which the chances of being involved in a crash rose sharply for most drivers.

1965 Drink Driving Related History

The Year of 1965

UK Government Prepares to Introduce New Drink Driving Limit

The UK government announced that it was preparing to introduce a maximum legal blood alcohol limit for drivers (drink driving limit). This move came as a result of the increase of road traffic accidents involving drivers who had been drinking alcohol.

1967 Drink Driving Related History

The Year of 1967

Introduction of the Maximum Legal Drink Drive Limit (Road Safety Act 1967)

The Road Safety Act of 1967 introduced the first maximum legal blood alcohol (drink driving) limit in the UK. The limit was set at a maximum BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood or the equivalent 107 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine. It became an offence to drive, attempt to drive or be in charge of a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration that exceeded the maximum prescribed legal limit.

Failing to Provide 'Evidential' Specimen became an Offence

The Road Safety Act of 1967 also made it an offence for "A person who, without reasonable excuse, fails to provide a specimen for a laboratory test'. Any person who failed to provide an evidential blood or urine specimen for a laboratory test without reasonable excuse could be prosecuted and punished as if the offence charged were an offence of either driving, attempting to drive or being in charge of a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration above the maximum prescribed legal limit.

Introduction of the Roadside Breathalyser

In 1967 the breathalyser act was given royal assent. Transport minister Barbara Castle introduced the breathalyser as a way of testing a person's BAC (blood alcohol concentration) level at the roadside. The act stated that the breathalyser device must be one that is type approved by the government. People protested to the introduction of the breathalyser and claimed that it was an infringement of their personal liberties, especially publicans, many of whom claimed impending bankruptcy.

Failing to Provide a Preliminary Specimen of Breath becomes and Offence

The Road Safety Act 1967 made provisions so that any person who, without reasonable excuse, fails to provide a specimen of breath for a preliminary breath test is guilty of an offence and is subjected to arrest without warrant and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £50.00.

1968 Drink Driving Related History

The Year of 1968

First Breathalyser is Type Approved

The first preliminary roadside breathalyser to be type approved by the home office was the Alcotest 80, manufactured by Dräger Ltd. The number 80 in the name refers to the BAC (blood alcohol concentration) limit it was designed to detect.

The introduction of the breathalyser in the UK, along with a heavy Government run advertising campaign helped decrease the percentage of road traffic accidents where alcohol had been a factor from 25% to 15% in the first year. This resulted in 1,152 fewer recorded deaths, 11,177 fewer serious injuries and 28,130 fewer slight injuries caused by road traffic accidents.

1981 Drink Driving Related History

The Year of 1981

1981 Transport Act Introduces Evidential Breath Testing

The 1981 Transport Act introduced evidential breath testing and stated that 35 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath (the equivalent of 80mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood) was to be the maximum legal breath alcohol limit.

Although the act introduced evidential breath testing legislation, it was not actually established and implemented until 1983. This was due to the various tests and trials that were, at the time, being carried out on evidential breath testing machines and the need for the manufacturers of these machines to produce, test and check large quantities for wide scale distribution and implementation.

The police force also needed to train its officers in the correct use of evidential breath testing machines in order to ensure correct procedure was always followed, this also took a considerable amount of time.

The Statutory Option

The 1981 Transport Act stated that motorists that provided a breath test reading of up to 50 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath or less could have the right to the statutory option of providing a blood or urine sample (whichever the police officer specified) instead. The statutory option was introduced to help instil confidence in the reliability and accuracy of evidential breath testing machines.

1983 Drink Driving Related History

The Year of 1983

Evidential Breath Testing is put into Practice

1983 seen the introduction, type approval and implementation of the Lion Intoximeter 3000. The Lion Intoximeter 3000 is an evidential breath testing machine that provided much more accurate and reliable results than the portable hand-held breathalyser devices the police used at the roadside for preliminary breath testing. The readings these machines produced could be used as a basis for prosecution and hard evidence in a court of law!

The introduction of these evidential breath testing machines caused much controversy as to how accurate the readings actually were. However, the readings they produced, were scientifically proven to be very accurate and evidential breath testing, to this day, remains to be the principal means of testing a drivers BAC (blood alcohol concentration) level in order to help secure drink driving related convictions in a court of law.

High Risk Offender Scheme

1983 also saw the introduction of the High Risk Offender (HRO) scheme, intended to manage convicted drink drivers who may have an alcohol problem. This is achieved by attending a DVLA medical, part of the medical includes providing a blood sample for analysis.

Drivers who fall into this category are required to satisfy the DVLA of their fitness to drive and a hold a driving licence. They must prove that they do not misuse alcohol and they are not alcohol dependant. High risk offenders must satisfactorily complete the medical before they will be issued with a driving licence upon expiration of a driving disqualification.

High Risk Offenders are drivers who:

  • Have been disqualified by order of a court for being over two and a half times the legal drink driving limit with a blood alcohol content that equalled or exceeded:
    1. 87.5 microgrammes per 100 millilitres of breath, or
    2. 200 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood, or
    3. 267.5 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of urine; OR
  • Have been disqualified by order of a court for failing, without reasonable excuse, to provide a specimen for analysis when ordered to do so pursuant to section 7 of The Road Traffic Act 1988; OR

In 1991, in addition to drivers who fall into the categories above, the high risk offender scheme was extended to cover drivers who:

  • Have been disqualified by an order of court on two or more occasions within a 10 year period for any drink drive offence

In 2013, in addition to drivers who fall into the categories above, the high risk offender scheme was extended to cover drivers who:

  • Have been disqualified by order of court by reason of failing, without reasonable excuse, to give permission for a laboratory test of a specimen of blood taken while that person was incapable of consenting.
1991 Drink Driving Related History

The Year of 1991

New Criminal Offence Introduced

The Road Traffic Act of 1991 introduced a new offence of 'Causing death by driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs' which carried a compulsory prison sentence of up to five years.

Drink Driving Rehabilitation Courses Introduced

Section 30 of the Road Traffic Act 1991 introduced a provision for sentencing courts to refer those who are disqualified for drink driving offences to approved drink driving rehabilitation courses. The main aim of these courses is to educate offenders in order to help prevent re-offending. Completing the drink driving rehabilitation course can reduce any disqualification period by up to 25% and can help reduce car insurance premiums for convicted drivers.

2000 Drink Driving Related History

The Year of 2000

Drink Driving Rehabilitation Courses Adopted Nationwide

With effect from January 1st 2000, a nationwide scheme was implemented that enabled all courts across the UK to be able to refer convicted drink drivers to the drink driving rehabilitation course.

2002 Drink Driving Related History

The Year of 2002

Most serious drink drive offenders must sit extended re-test

As of 2002, drivers convicted of causing death by driving when under the influence of alcohol or drugs are required to pass an extended test before being allowed to drive again.

In 2002 doctors were also given the right to take blood samples from unconscious or incapacitated drivers without their consent. Even though a blood sample can be taken while a driver is incapacitated or unconscious, once the driver regains consciousness, he must give consent for that sample to be analysed. Failure to allow a specimen to be subjected to a laboratory test when 'driving or attempting to drive' is a criminal offence.

2004 Drink Driving Related History

The Year of 2004

Maximum sentence increased for serious drink driving offence

The maximum penalty for causing death by driving when under the influence of alcohol or drugs was increased to 14 years in 2004.

2005 Drink Driving Related History

The Year of 2005

Evidential roadside breath testing law

In 2005 police officers were given the power to require evidential breath specimens elsewhere than at the police station. Section 154 of The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 made amendments to The Road Traffic Act 1988. These amendments granted police officers the power to require drivers to provide an evidential breath specimen at or near any place where a preliminary breath test was, or would have been so administered but for an individuals failure to co-operate with it.

Police officers were granted the power to administer evidential breath tests at the roadside, in practice however, they were unable to exercise this power as no roadside evidential breath testing device/s had yet been type approved.

2008 Drink Driving Related History

The Year of 2008

Comprehensive breath testing statistical data collected

In 2008, The Department for Transport funded every police force in England and Wales in order to buy newly approved, memory equipped roadside screening breath testing devices. These screening devices are able to collect and store data electronically which can then be transferred to a central database. The data they can store includes the age and gender of any driver required to take a preliminary breath test alongside the date and time; the reason for the test and the test result. Comprehensive statistical data on drivers who are below the legal limit and their involvement in any accident starts being collected for the first time in history.

2010 Drink Driving Related History

The Year of 2010

DRINK DRIVING LIMIT, LAWS AND LEGAL FRAMEWORK UNDER REVIEW

Government efforts to improve road safety, reduce fatalities and combat drink driving continue. A report commissioned by the Department for Transport (DFT) carried out by Sir Peter North CBE QC reviewed the legal framework in Britain for both drink and drug driving.

The review was requested by the Rt. Hon. Lord Adonis (former Secretary of State for Transport) in order for the Government to examine possible changes to current legislature and the legal framework governing drink and drug driving in the UK.

Recommendations from the report included:

  • lowering the current legal limit of 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood to 50 mg of alcohol per 100ml and the equivalents in both breath and urine
  • the introduction, type approval and use of portable hand-held evidential breathalysers that can be used at the road side no later than the end of 2011
  • the introduction of police powers to be able to breathalyse anyone that is driving a vehicle, regardless of circumstances (random breath testing)
  • the possibility of permanently disqualifying repeat drink driving offenders
  • the removal of the statutory option allowing drivers with low BAC (blood alcohol content) levels to opt to provide an alternative sample of blood or urine rather than a sample of breath
  • closing a loop hole that allows high risk offenders to drive once there ban has expired, they have applied for a licence and before they have been classed as fit to drive by a DVLA appointed doctor

Read The Full North Report Review Here

2013 Drink Driving Related History

The Year of 2013

Government clamps down on high risk offenders

Government amends and introduces new legislation specifically targeting drink drivers who are classified as 'High Risk Offenders'. The new legislation came into force on 1st June 2013.

Disqualified drivers classified as 'High Risk Offenders' are required to satisfy the DVLA (Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency) of their fitness to drive upon expiration of their driving disqualification by attending and passing a DVLA medical examination. This is in place to help detect if a person is alcohol dependent and/or misuses alcohol and helps ensure if they are, they are kept off the road due to the increased chance of them re-offending.

Prior to June 1st 2013 the majority of people disqualified from driving who were classified as high risk offenders retained legal entitlement to drive once their disqualification had expired and before they had attended and passed a DVLA medical examination if a qualifying driving licence application had been received by the DVLA.

This was seen as a loophole in the system by many and the DVLA stated they had evidence that suggested many high risk offenders were abusing the system by delaying their medical examinations in order to continue legally driving despite the fact they may not have been deemed fit to drive by DVLA medical standards.

Section 88 of The Road Traffic Act 1988 Amended

Section 88 of The Road Traffic Act 1988 was amended for this reason and new legislation requires that, as of 1st June 2013, all disqualified drivers classified as high risk offenders MUST attend, pass and satisfy the DVLA of their fitness to drive before they will be issued with a driving licence and be legally entitled to drive again.

High Risk Offender Scheme Extended

Section 74 of The Motor Vehicle (Driving Licences) 1999 act was also amended and the high risk offender scheme which requires medical investigation for drivers convicted of relevant drink driving related offences was extended to include:

  • Any person disqualified by order of court by reason of failing, without reasonable excuse, to give permission for a laboratory test of a specimen of blood taken while that person was incapable of consenting.

Any person convicted of the aforementioned offence as of the 1st June 2013 will be classified as a high risk offender requiring medical investigation into their fitness to drive.

Road Safety Minister, Stephen Hammond commented on the new legislation stating:

"Drink drivers are a menace and it is right we do everything we can to keep the most high risk offenders off the road".

The drink driving laws and drug driving laws are constantly evolving, with various acts and statutory instruments being introduced, as the Government continues to clamp down on diving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.



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