Tougher consequences for drink drivers

In December 2015 the Department for Transport produced a wide reaching paper on road safety, called “Moving Britain Ahead”.  It makes for interesting reading, as it covers a wide range of proposals that will affect us all.  This article deals with the proposal that there should be tougher consequences for those caught drink driving.

The current position

The term drink driving covers a number of offences.  These are the most common, but by no means all:

  • Driving, or attempting to, with excess alcohol in your breath, blood or urine carries a minimum driving ban of twelve months. For those caught at up to twice the limit, a ban of 12-16 months will normally be imposed, along with a fine.  For those over four times the limit, a ban of up to three years and a prison sentence are likely. Those falling between the two extremes can expect a sentence somewhere in the middle.
  • Anyone caught for the second time in a decade can expect a ban of at least three years.
  • Being in charge of a vehicle whilst over the limit does not carry automatic disqualification. So those up to twice the limit can expect 10 penalty points and a fine.  Those more than four times the limit can expect a community order, and a ban of six to twelve months.  Whether a driver is ‘in charge’ of a vehicle depends on the circumstances in which they are found, and the appeal courts have been asked to consider many cases on the point.  If you are accused of being drunk in charge, you should always seek legal advice before deciding whether to plead guilty.
  • Drivers who fail to provide a specimen of breath, blood or urine when asked to do so can expect anything from a fine to a prison sentence, and a ban of one to five years, depending upon the seriousness of the surrounding circumstances. The police are entitled to insist on specimens in very many circumstances.  There is, for example, no right to see a solicitor before providing a sample.  However, there are a number of potential defences to this offence, and you should seek legal advice before deciding on your plea.

So how much can you drink before driving?  The drink drive limit in England and Wales is 33 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath.  This used to be thought of as two to three pints of bitter.  However, many drinks are much stronger now, and different people metabolise alcohol at different rates depending on what they have eaten, their weight, and many other factors.  There is no guaranteed way of staying under the limit, other than avoiding alcohol altogether.

The sentencing guidelines that apply to these offences are designed to cover an enormous range of offending.  Someone who is slightly over the alcohol limit can expect to be fined, and they will have the inconvenience of a twelve month disqualification, which can be reduced to nine months if a course is completed.

At the other extreme, those who drive whilst blind drunk are at risk of prison.  Those in between might expect a community sentence, or a suspended prison sentence.

The current sentencing guidelines provide for a lot of discretion in sentencing.  In other words, if the defence case is presented properly, and the correct mitigation put forward, there is scope for a dramatic reduction in the type of sentence, and reduction in the length of the driving ban.  If you would like to discuss how we could help, please get in touch.

The proposals

The Department for Transport has not yet set out in detail what it is proposing to do.  What we do know is that it plans to make greater use of technology to catch drink (and drugs) drivers, and to review current sentences with a view to increasing the consequences of drink driving.

There are really two choices for the Department here.  It could change the current guidelines for those who are, say, twice over the limit so that they too face a custodial sentence.  It could also increase the maximum sentence for most drink driving offences from imprisonment for six months to a longer sentence.  This would have the intriguing consequence of making drink driving an offence that can be tried – and punished – in the Crown Court, something that most Crown Court Judges are unlikely to welcome.

It has also been noted that drivers in England and Wales  are permitted to drink far more before driving than in other countries (notably Scotland).  It may well be that the Government is giving consideration to lowering this threshold as well, so that all drivers will have to be far more careful about having even one pint before driving, and also about driving first thing in the morning.

For more information on all motoring matters, email, or call 0121 201 3765.

Regan Peggs
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