Drink Driving Laws in the UK
Drink driving laws in the UK are strictly enforced and the penalties upon conviction can be severe. In the UK it is illegal to:
- Drive or attempt to drive with excess alcohol (while exceeding the legal limit)
- Be in charge of a motor vehicle with excess alcohol (while exceeding the legal limit)
- Drive or attempt to drive while unfit through drink (alcohol) or drugs
- Be in charge of a motor vehicle whilst unfit through drink (alcohol) or drugs
- Fail to co-operate with a preliminary road side breath test when required to do so
- Fail to provide an evidential specimen (blood, breath or urine) for analysis while driving or attempting to drive a vehicle
- Fail to provide an evidential specimen (blood, breath or urine) for analysis while in charge of a vehicle
- Fail to give permission for a laboratory test of a specimen of blood taken while that person was incapable of consenting
Upon conviction of any of the above offences a person will have a criminal record.
Anyone convicted of a drink driving related offence will face either an obligatory (definite) or discretionary (possible) driving disqualification depending on the exact offence committed.
For example the offence of driving a vehicle while exceeding the maximum legal alcohol limit carries a minimum mandatory driving disqualification of 12 months while being in charge of a vehicle while exceeding the maximum legal alcohol limit carries a discretionary driving disqualification and if no disqualification is imposed then 10 penalty points will be imposed on an offenders driving licence.
In all cases regardless of whether or not a disqualification is imposed, a driving licence endorsement will be added to an offenders driving licence which will remain for between 4 and 11 years depending on the offence.
Additional penalties can include fines, community orders, court costs, compensation and in serious cases a custodial (prison) sentence.
Depending on the offence and/or the level of alcohol in a persons body at the time the offence was committed, a person could also face being classed as a 'high risk offender'.
High risk offenders are required to satisfy the DVLA of their fitness to drive once their driving disqualification has expired by taking and passing a DVLA medical before their driving licence will be issued.
The law regarding drink driving related offences is complicated and due to the potential severity of sentences imposed, expert legal advice from a solicitor with experience of drink driving laws is always recommended.
Any person who is or was driving, attempting to drive, or who is or was in charge of a motor vehicle on a road or any public place (e.g. a pub car park or a garage forecourt) may be required by the police to provide a breath test to ascertain whether or not the alcohol in their system exceeds the maximum prescribed legal limit.
The request must be made by a police officer in uniform but can only be made if one of the following situations apply:-
- the police officer has reasonable cause to suspect that the person has committed or is currently committing a moving traffic offence; or
- the police officer has reasonable cause to suspect that the person driving/attempting to drive/in charge of the vehicle has consumed alcohol; or
- the police officer has reasonable cause to believe that the person driving/attempting to drive/in charge of a motor vehicle was involved in an accident.
What happens if I fail the preliminary road side breath test but pass an evidential breath test at the Police station?
The preliminary road side breath test is, in essence, a screening test that is carried out in order to provide an indication as to whether the proportion of alcohol in a persons system is likely to exceed the maximum prescribed legal limit. If a person fails the preliminary road side breath test, they will be arrested and taken to the police station in order to provide an evidential specimen.
The evidential breath testing machine at the police station is much more accurate and it may be possible, in certain circumstances, that readings from an evidential breath testing machine may prove that the alcohol in a persons system does not exceed the maximum prescribed legal limit, despite the fact a preliminary road side breath test indicated that this may not be the case. This is especially true if the time between providing a preliminary breath test and an evidential specimen is considerable or the accused was only fractionally over the limit at the time of the road side breath test.
In scenarios like this where a person provides an evidential breath specimen that proves the alcohol in their system does not exceed the maximum prescribed legal limit, despite failing a road side breath test, no charges will usually be brought against them.
In serious cases (such as a serious road traffic accident resulting in serious injury or fatality) the police may seek to prove that a driver whose level of alcohol in their system was under the maximum legal prescribed limit at the time an evidential specimen was obtained, was nevertheless above the maximum legal prescribed limit at the time of the incident. This is known as a 'back calculation'.