If you have recently been charged with a drink driving offence under the Road Traffic Act 1988, you may understandably be deeply concerned about your ability to work and travel, and the possible negative impact on your personal and professional reputation.  Being unable to drive can also place huge pressure and stress on your family if they rely on you for day to day transportation including for school, clubs, shopping, and to visit friends and family.  As such, it is vitally important to understand your legal position, the options available, and the best steps to take from the outset.

The following advice assumes you have already been charged with driving with excess alcohol but are yet to attend a Court hearing.  In this case, you must seek expert legal guidance from a Solicitor who will provide you with the best possible advice, and where possible, a robust defence to the charge of drink driving.

What is the penalty for drink driving?

There are several possible penalties if found guilty of drink driving; imprisonment (up to a maximum of six months assuming no death was caused as a result of drink driving), a suspended prison sentence, community sentence, fine (for which there is no set limit), and a mandatory driving ban of at least 12 months.

If you are banned from driving for 12 months or more, the Court may offer to reduce this if you successfully complete a drink driving rehabilitation scheme course (DDRS).  However, if charged with a second drink driving offence within a 10-year period, you will face a mandatory three-year ban.

The scale of the penalty will be proportionate to the circumstances of your case.  If you are charged with being ‘in charge’ of a vehicle while unfit through drink, which means there is no proof you were actually driving at the time (e.g. you were in the car but weren’t driving, or if you were outside the car with the keys and it is believed you intended to drive), you may not face a driving ban.

Should I plead guilty or not guilty?

Pleading guilty may mean you avoid a Court trial and will likely result in the imposition of a disqualification from driving for at least 12-months.  However, if it can be successfully argued there is a ‘special reason’ for doing so, you may be able to avoid a driving ban, or at least have its duration reduced.

By pleading not guilty, you will be required to attend a Court trial at which you can present evidence.  The Court will decide, after listening to the evidence presented, whether it is beyond reasonable doubt you are guilty of the charge.

What are the defences to the charge of drink driving?

There are several common defences to drink-driving, including:

  1. Technical / procedural reasons – if it can be proven that the police did not undertake the alcohol measurement process correctly, sufficient doubt may be cast on the evidence provided by the police to prevent any prosecution.
  2. You drank after driving (the ‘hip flask’ argument) – in this case, your defence would be that you drove before having a drink of alcohol.
  3. Duress – whereby a person is forced to drink-drive, perhaps because their life is threatened. It would be very rare that this defence would be used or succeed.
  4. You were not conscious that you were driving at the time – this is often referred to as ‘automatism’ (which means “the performance of actions without conscious thought or intention”). Like duress, this defence is seldom used.
  5. The event occurred on private premises – to be found guilty, you must have been in a public space or on a public road – if the location of the drink driving was not public, the Court might take this into consideration. Likewise, they may consider that what is technically a private space is really public (e.g. a supermarket carpark).

Special reasons to avoid disqualification

A ban from driving may also be avoided if it can be proved that there is a ‘special reason’ which applies in your case.  To be considered a special reason, the Court of Appeal have defined that a matter must include mitigating or extenuating circumstances, which does not amount in law to a defence to the charge, but is directly related to the commission of the offence, and one which the court ought properly to take into consideration when imposing sentence.  Examples may include driving someone to the hospital in the event of an actual or perceived medical emergency, to rescue someone in danger, or if a drink has been spiked (in which case it must be proven that if it were not for the drink being spiked, you would not have been over the limit).

In summary

If you are facing prosecution for drink driving, there are several potential defences and special reasons which may enable you to avoid or mitigate a penalty.  By assessing the situation fully and formulating a strategy from the outset based on previous experience and cases, you will have the best chance of a favourable outcome.  When it comes to drink driving offences, the guidance and support of an experienced Solicitor are essential.

If you are a facing prosecution for drink driving our criminal law team can help.  You can contact us at info@reeds.co.uk.