Category Archives: Drink driving

Most common driving offences and penalties in a UK court

The Christmas season is all but upon us, and with it comes the temptation to have a drink with colleagues or friends before getting into the car. Clearly no one sets out with the intention to drink-drive, and the advice would be not to drink at all, but it is hard if do drink to gauge the exact point when you might be over the legal limit.

There can often be that very sobering moment when you are asked to blow into the breathalyser or are being tested on your cognitive abilities when you begin to consider the consequences of having that extra half-pint. So aside from just drink driving what are some of the most common driving offences and potential penalties?

Speeding offences

Speeding is undoubtedly the most common driving offence in the UK. If you are caught speeding then you’ll usually be sent a Notice of Intended Prosecution and will be required to inform the police who was driving the car at the time of the offence. If you plead guilty then you will not usually be required to attend court, unless the speed breach was of a serious nature and in this case you would need a speeding solicitor.

Drink driving

A breathalyser can measure how much alcohol is in your system. The legal limit for driving in England, Wales and Northern Ireland stands at 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath (in Scotland it is 22 micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath). It is difficult to put a on how many drinks this is, as everyone is different, and there are clearly some people who get drunk much quicker than others! Should you test over the limit you will usually be taken to a police station for a second breath test, and if that returns a positive result, you will be charged. If you should refuse to give a roadside breath test then the police will arrest you and look to take a blood or urine sample. You can lose your licence if your test comes back positive, in this case it is best to consult a drink driving solicitor.

Drug driving

Similar to drink driving, there is a zero-tolerance approach taken to drug-driving regardless of level of driver impairment, so once more you will need a drug driving solicitor on your side. Use of cannabis, cocaine or amphetamine may be among the most obvious drug-driving offences, but drug-driving also refers to driving while under the influence of any narcotic substance, so could potentially include both prescription and over the counter medications which when combined can impair your ability to drive.

Careless driving

Careless driving can apply to a number of offences when drivers are not abiding by the rules of the road. Driving without due care and attention, hogging the middle lane, or reckless overtaking could all be considered examples that might lead to a charge or an on-the-spot fine which police are able to issue these days.

Other offences

There are a number of other offences that carry with them varying penalties, including vehicle insurance offences, vehicle registration offences, neglecting road regulations, using a handheld device while driving, being drunk while in charge of a vehicle, and failing to identify the driver at the time an offence was committed, which can all lead to punishments including penalty points, fines, disqualification and imprisonment, depending on the seriousness of the offence.

Testing drivers for drink or drugs

As mentioned above, drunk driving will usually be ascertained through a roadside breathalyser. Drug driving is harder to pin down, and often a police officer, alerted to the driver’s impaired condition through poor driving, will conduct a series of roadside tests. These include tests such as walking in a straight line, giving clear answers to a set of questions, and touching the tip of the finger to one’s nose to ascertain the driver’s cognitive abilities. Should the police not be reassured by these tests, they will take you to the station where they will look to obtain a saliva, urine or blood test.

What is the procedure when charged with a drink or drug diving offence?

As these are criminal offences you will be required to attend court in person. Regardless of whether you are pleading guilty or contesting the charge, you should instruct a solicitor to act on your behalf. Your legal representative will be able to argue your case, or present mitigation which may be able to achieve a more favourable sentence. A well-presented plea of mitigation can often make a difference to the period of disqualification or any potential fine.

What penalties could I face?

  • A drink or drug driving offence carries a mandatory 12 month driving disqualification. In addition to a ban, you could face a fine and up to 6 months’ imprisonment.
  • Causing death by dangerous driving while under the influence of drugs or drink can result in prison sentence of up to 14 years, a driving ban of at least two years (including an intensive driving test before your licence is reinstated), or an unlimited fine.
  • Should you refuse to supply a sample of breath, saliva, urine or blood, you may be detained, imprisoned for up to a year, lose your licence and face an unlimited fine.
  • For speeding offences, depending on how far over the speed limit a driver is, a speed awareness course may be offered, thus avoiding getting points on their licence. If not given the option then 3 points and a £100 fine would be likely. If the speeding offence is at the higher end of the scale then an unlimited fine and driving ban are a real possibility.
  • Careless driving offences can receive on-the-spot fines of £100 or drivers could also receive between 3 and 9 penalty points.

These are just a selection of the most common driving offences and penalties, but should you find yourself in legal trouble during the festive season, whether through drink driving or for any other motoring offence, do not take a chance with the outcome. Call for a driving solicitor to guide you through the process and ensure the best possible result for you.

Image cc by-sa Albert Bridge.

Drink driving and exceptional hardship

drunk driving

Most of us have preconceptions about drink driving. Perhaps you envision someone drinking heavily each evening after work and then driving home. A claim of exceptional hardship might then be thought of as a way for those who frequently drink and drive to avoid the repercussions of their routine behaviour. The facts are much more complicated than that. While an experienced solicitor might help avoid a drink driving ban due to exceptional hardship, it may not be for the reasons you would expect.

Morning after drink driving

As you might imagine, drink driving arrests are most frequent in the evening, however, in 2011 more people failed breath tests between 6 am and 11 am than in the hour before and after midnight. This is largely attributed to people still being over the legal limit for alcohol they consumed the night before. Commuters being arrested for drink driving on their way to work in the morning is quite different from our perception of how drink driving normally occurs.

Since 1970 drink driving fatalities have decreased 83 percent in the UK. This is due to improved vehicle safety, tougher drink driving regulations, and better public awareness of the dangers of drink driving. In spite of these efforts, a report by the UK’s THINK! campaign found that 33 percent of the drivers surveyed were unaware that four or more servings of alcohol consumed at night could still cause them to be legally drunk the following morning. In a different study, 46 percent of drivers were unaware of how long alcohol remained in the bloodstream.

This means more public education is necessary to alert drivers to the perils of morning after drinking. In the meantime, this ignorance leads many morning commuters to face life-altering legal repercussions for what could be a one-time lapse in judgement.

The truth about exceptional hardship

Periodically rulings based on a claim of exceptional hardship make the news. The Telegraph published an article back in 2010 stating that ten thousand people had avoided driving bans that year, in spite of having 12 or more points. The newspaper reported that approximately one in four drivers facing disqualification had been shown clemency by the courts due to exceptional hardship. This prompted some advocates to express concerns about how many people with 12 or more points were able to avoid the driving ban.

The Sentencing Council mandates a tolling up disqualification if a driver reaches 12 points, however, it provides the courts with the ability and the obligation to make a ruling based on the circumstances involved in each specific case. In addition, although a 6-month disqualification is the recommended minimum, the courts are able to adjust the driving ban based on the driver’s history and any mitigating factors. This is an important provision of the law as under the points system a driver might reach the 12-point disqualification level after one speeding ticket and a single drink driving arrest. Another driver might reach the same 12-points whist clearly displaying a high likelihood of recidivism. The courts have the ability to provide for a longer ban if circumstances warrant it while recognising any exceptional hardships a ban might create.

The legal standard is that routine hardship is not sufficient to justify reducing or avoiding a driving ban. Only hardship that is exceptional is considered although other personal circumstances may be a factor in a determination of disqualification. Under the law, a driver who has previously avoided a driving ban due to exceptional circumstances cannot use those same exceptional circumstances in the following three years to fight another pending disqualification, so helping to prevent drivers from repeating driving offences and continuing to avoid penalties. In this way, the exceptional hardship provision protects drivers from being unduly penalised for what might be a single offense while protecting society from repeat offenders.

Recent celebrity cases have brought greater public attention to the concept of exceptional hardship. Where former Manchester United footballer, Ray Wilkins, was awarded a four-year driving ban – Wilkins had a history of drink driving and was arrested after he was found driving erratically and consuming alcohol as he drove –  footballer Joe Cole was able to avoid a one since it was found this would cause his wife exceptional hardship. She was no longer able to drive after being traumatised by a carjacking so she relied on her husband’s ability to do so. In the past, courts have also ruled that exceptional hardship can include the ability to care for one’s extended family or to protect from damage to a business.

However, protecting one’s own job is not considered an adequate reason in itself for waiving a driving ban. For example, a Bradford motorbike instructor’s 4-year driving ban for drink driving was upheld because the judge viewed that the instructor would have been fully aware of the potential consequences of his actions and had foreknowledge that his livelihood would be threatened if he were to commit the offence.

In the UK, the number of drink driving fatalities has stayed fairly consistent since 2010. This prompted Scotland to lower their drink driving limit from 50mg per 100ml of blood in December 2014. In June 2016, legislation to lower the drink driving limit from 80ml to 50ml throughout the rest of the UK was passed by the House of Lords before running out of parliamentary time. The issue is likely to be revisited since a recent study showed 77 percent of UK residents support stricter drink driving regulations. Legislative changes are likely to create new challenges in the future for drink driving solicitors.

Image cc by Ben Salter on Flickr.