If you’ve been charged with a drink driving offence, the specialist road traffic offence solicitors at Jordans Solicitors can represent you and help with your case. Our in depth knowledge of drink driving laws in the UK can help prevent you from being wrongfully charged or sentenced.
What are the drink driving laws?
The offence of drink driving occurs when you are over the permitted blood alcohol levels. If you are under these limits, you are not breaking the law.
It’s worth remembering you can still be over the drink drive limit from alcohol you drank the previous day. The safest thing to do if you are going out to have a drink is to leave your vehicle at home and use alternative transport.
What are the legal limits?
Currently, the UK legal drink drive limits are:
- 35 micrograms of alcohol in 100ml of breath
- 80mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood
- 107mg of alcohol in 100ml of urine
What type of tests you might be asked to take
If you are suspected of drink driving by the police, you will be subject to a preliminary roadside breathalyser.
The police will also often look for signs such as admitting to drinking alcohol, the smell of intoxicants on your breath and slurred speech.
Particular attention will also be paid to the standard and manner of driving observed by the officer. There are many signs, with those mentioned above being only a sample.
For an evidential breath test, you will be required to provide two samples of breath for analysis. You are warned that failure to provide the sample will make you liable for prosecution. The breath testing equipment allows three minutes for an evidential sample of breath to be produced.
Blood and urine samples
If you fail the roadside breathalyser test, you will be arrested and taken either to the police station or to the hospital to provide an evidential sample – either a blood or urine sample.
In some cases, an officer may go straight to an evidential sample where a roadside breathalyser test is not available or when it is not practical to use one.
It’s not possible to be convicted on the results of a preliminary breath test. If your reading is over the limit and you fail to provide an evidential sample, you would be charged with failing to provide a sample for analysis rather than drink driving.
Medical reasons for failing to provide a sample
You must tell the police officer if there are any medical reasons for you not providing a breath sample. You may need to speak to a doctor or nurse if there are any doubts. The police can then request you give an evidential blood or urine sample.
Punishments for drink driving
If you are found guilty of a drink drive or drug drive offence, you will face a mandatory disqualification of at least 12 months.
The higher the levels of alcohol and or drugs in your system, the greater period of disqualification.
If you are a repeat offender who has had another offence within the last 10 years, the minimum period of disqualification increases to three years.
- Fines. In addition to any ban, as a convicted drink driver you will face a fine based on 1.5 weeks’ of your net earnings.
- Community order. If your alcohol reading is above a certain level (usually 2-3 times the current limit) a court will consider imposing a community order of unpaid work (between 40-300 hours).
- Curfews. An alternative could be an electronically monitored curfew that would require you to stay at your home address between 7pm to 7am Monday to Sunday for a specified period.
- Custody. The maximum custodial penalty for drink driving is six months and only tends to be considered for very high alcohol reading (typically 3-4 times the drink drive limit) and if you were a repeat offender. If you received a custodial sentence, then there would be no community order or fine but you are still required to pay a victim surcharge upon your release from custody.
Legal consequences of drink driving
If you are charged under drink driving laws, you could face the following consequences:
Drink driving conviction is a criminal offence and will appear on your employment check for a number of years depending on the level of penalty imposed.
Employment contracts specify that you would have to disclose a criminal conviction and failure to do so could lead to your dismissal. Failure to do so could lead to further prosecution for you obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception.
Certain professions have strict rules requiring their members to be free from criminal convictions. The most common professions being doctors, dentists, pharmacists, lawyers, accountants and brokers regulated by the FCA.
If you are convicted of a drink driving offence then you risk losing your registration and livelihood.
Following a period of disqualification, it will be difficult for you to obtain competitive insurance terms. In some cases, insurance companies may refuse to insure you with a drink or drug drive conviction.
Restrictions on foreign travel
It is likely that you will be refused entry to USA, Australia and Canada if you have been convicted of a drink or drug driving offence.
Drug Driving Offences
It is illegal for you drive a motor vehicle while unfit through taking legal or illegal drugs in your blood, even though your driving may not be affected.
Even if you are taking prescription or over-the-counter medicines, you need to check whether it is safe to drive when you are taking them. Take advice from your doctor, pharmacist or healthcare professional.
You can be stopped by police and made to do a ‘field impairment assessment’ if they think you are taking drugs. This may involve you walking in a straight line. You can also be tested using a roadside drug kit to screen for cannabis and cocaine.
If the police think you are unfit to drive because of taking drugs, you will be arrested and taken to the police station in order to take a blood or urine test. Should this matter go to court and you are found guilty will receive a criminal conviction.
It is illegal in England and Wales to drive with legal drugs in your body if it impairs your driving. Similarly, it is an offence if you have over the specified limits of certain drugs in your blood and they are not on prescription.
If you have been prescribed any of the drugs listed below, talk to your doctor about whether it is safe for you to drive:
- amphetamine, e.g. dexamphetamine or selegiline
- morphine or opiate and opioid-based drugs, e.g. codeine, tramadol or fentanyl
Penalties for drug driving
You will receive:
- A minimum 12-month disqualification
- An unlimited fine
- Up to 6 months in prison
- A criminal conviction
What does “drunk in charge” mean?
Often, this refers to being in charge – simply inside – any vehicle while legally classed as drunk. Though the legal definition of “drunk in charge” is not so straightforward. The court will consider a number of factors before reaching a decision such as:
- Where were you relative to the vehicle?
- Where you were inside the vehicle?
- Were the keys in the ignition or on the seat?
- Was the engine switched on?
- Any evidence that suggests you had an intention to drive?
Drink driving offence – FAQs
Do I need to tell the DVLA?
DVLA will be told of your conviction by the Court.
How long does alcohol last in the blood?
If you drink a large (250ml) glass of wine, your body takes about three hours to break down the alcohol – but this differs from person to person. If you drink a pint of beer, your body takes about two hours to break it down. A pint of strong lager is equivalent to three units, so this will take longer. However, this time can vary, depending on a number of factors.
Can I appeal a drink driving conviction?
If you are convicted and sentenced before the Magistrates’ Court, you have an automatic right of appeal to the Crown Court. They will determine whether the magistrates came to the correct decision.
Is parental consent needed for blood samples of under 18 year’s olds?
The police need both you and an adult that you trust to agree that it is OK before they take more intimate samples such as blood. You cannot be forced to give a sample like this even if you have been charged.
Do you need to re-take your driving test after a drink driving ban?
If the court told you that you must take another driving test before driving again, you will have to apply for a new provisional licence. You can drive as soon as your ban is over and you have passed the tests you need to take.
What are the drink driving abroad laws?
The new legal limit for drivers who have passed their driving test within the last three years is 0.02mg per litre of blood. For other drivers it is still 0.05mg. There is also a requirement that you have with you a disposable breathalyser kit in your car.
In Spain, the legal limit for drivers who have passed their driving test within the last two years is 0.03mg per litre of blood. For other drivers it is still 0.05mg. It is useful to note that this is 0.03mg lower than the legal limit in the UK.
If you have been driving for less than two years or are under 21 years of age, you cannot have any alcohol at all prior to getting behind the wheel.
If you are stopped for a different reason and the police officer gives you a breath test, you will receive a conviction. However, if the offence was not thought to be caused by alcohol the limit rises to 0.05mg.
If you are driving with 0.11mg of alcohol in your bloodstream, you will receive a twelve month ban. For a reading of 0.16mg you will need to have medical and psychological assessments before being allowed anywhere near the wheel of a car.
There are three different levels of drink driving:
- 0.05mg: The standard drink driving limit in Italy. This could result in anything from a fine to imprisonment.
- 0.08mg or higher: This can result in you facing up to six months in prison.
- 0.15mg or higher: You could face up to a year in prison.
In Ireland, the legal limit for drivers who have passed their driving test within the last two years is 0.02mg per litre of blood. For other drivers it is still 0.05mg.
In Canada, the legal limit for drivers is 0.08mg. You can be convicted if you refuse to give a breath test or a blood sample.
There are many differences between the laws governing driving under the influence in the various states of the US but there are common points, which include that the legal alcohol to blood ratio in all states is 0.08mg.
Can I be arrested for failing to provide a sample?
The police can stop you at any time and ask you to take a breath test if:
- They believe you have been drinking
- You have committed a traffic offence
- You have been involved in a road traffic collision
If you refuse to take the test, or fail to provide a sample of breath without a reasonable excuse you can be arrested. The reasonable excuse could be a physical or mental condition that prevents you from giving a sample.
The breath test result is available straightaway and if you are not over the drink drive limit, you should be allowed to continue your journey.