The festive season is traditionally a time of over indulgence, joy and partying. In the UK, there is another annual festive tradition on which this article focuses. Every year, police forces up and down the country launch their Christmas drink drive campaigns. The police know that this is the time when people are more likely to drink and take a risk driving when at other times of the year they would be far more cautious.
In 2014, there were 240 deaths due to drink driving on the UK’s roads. It doesn’t actually take much alcohol to place you over the limit. In England and Wales, the limit is 35 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath, but much lower in Scotland at 22 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath. Especially at this time of year, many people get caught the day after a party night as alcohol can take many hours to be absorbed. The best advice is not to drink at all since it is not possible to say how much alcohol you can drink and stay below the limit. This varies from person to person and also from day to day dependant upon such factors as your weight, age, sex and metabolism (the rate your body uses energy), the type and amount of alcohol you’re drinking, whether you’ve eaten recently and your stress levels at the time.
As with all other motoring offences, these are what are called “statutory” offences which means that if you infringe the written legal code, you will be found guilty of an offence. So, what are the laws that can apply, and the punishment?
All offences are dealt with in Court. You will not get just a ticket or a fine at the roadside. Moreover, you will be taken straight to a police station from the place of arrest for further tests to be made.
Starting with the obvious offence. You must supply a specimen for analysis when reasonably asked to do so. If you do not do so, you can go to prison for up to 6 months, get an unlimited fine and be banned from driving for at least 12 months.
If you are in charge of a vehicle, but not actually driving this is still an offence. The sentence can be 3 months in prison, £2500.00 fine and a possible driving ban.
Actually driving or attempting to drive whilst over the legal limit is a more serious offence. The sentence will be up to 6 months in prison, an unlimited fine and a ban from driving for at least 1 year.
The most serious offence, where you cause the death of another by careless driving whilst being over the drink drive limit carries a term in prison of up to 14 years, an unlimited fine and a driving ban for at least 2 years. Moreover, to get your licence back you then have to pass an extended driving test.
People designated as “high risk” offenders will not automatically receive their licence back after a driving ban. Such persons have to submit to a medical examination before this will be returned.
After any driving conviction of this type, there may be hidden consequences. Almost certainly your motor insurance costs will escalate. If you have been banned from driving you may lose your job if driving is an integral part of your employment. Moreover, if you apply for a job your new employer may see your adverse history and decide against employment. You could also face restrictions on foreign travel if the country you want to visit takes such convictions into account before granting a visa. If you ever try to make a claim for Criminal Injuries Compensation your award may be reduced or rejected altogether. Finally, if you are not a UK citizen, such a conviction might be sufficient cause for you to be deported back to your country of origin.
Since driving laws are statutory laws, it is very difficult to defend any charge. Most challenges relate to whether the police have followed the correct procedures or whether the equipment used was faulty. In any other case the prospects of challenging conviction are remote. It is a matter of fact whether a specimen was given and a matter of fact that the limit was exceeded. In such circumstances, the defence to the charge tends to be limited to making an argument for a shorter or more lenient sentence.
Hopefully this festive period you will drive responsibly and think very carefully about whether to drive at all if you have had any alcohol recently. If you are however arrested since the penalties can be so severe, you should seek legal advice.