People convicted of drink driving must be banned from driving by the courts for at least twelve months. They also face additional sanctions such as a fine or community service, or even the risk of a prison sentence.
Over the Limit?
Anyone who is caught driving a motor vehicle of any sort with more than 35 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of their breath is guilty of a criminal offence. This roughly equates to two glasses of wine or two pints of beer, but people absorb alcohol at different rates so two pints may put someone over the limit.
It takes time for alcohol to leave the system, so heavy drinking during an evening may mean that someone is still over the limit the next morning.
The police will normally give you a date for a court appearance, usually in three or four day's time. When appearing at court the magistrates will ask whether the person is pleading guilty or not guilty. If you are over the limit there are very few available defences, so usually you will have to plead guilty.
The magistrates will then ask about the circumstances of the offence, and your means, and will then decide on the penalty to impose. This must include a disqualification of at least twelve months, and may be more depending on the level of alcohol involved. If you are banned from driving and will lose your job or suffer some other hardship as a result, this does not matter as the magistrates are obliged to disqualify you. That disqualification begins immediately, so if you are likely to plead guilty you should not drive to the court as you are unlikely to be able to drive your vehicle back.
To avoid a ban altogether is very difficult. To do so you need to show that there was some sort of "special reason" which led to the offence being committed. The most usual ones are that there was some sort of emergency (e.g. a woman who finds an intruder in her house and therefore leaps into her car and drives away will probably be okay) or that the distance driven was so short that no other road user would have been placed in danger. Here a short distance means a matter of a few yards, nothing more. (Someone who drives their car from their drive onto the street and then drives it back onto their drive to turn it round will probably be okay, but someone who drives the car round the block to perform the same manoeuvre will not be.)
What cannot be argued as a special reason is the impact that being convicted or being banned may have on someone's life. It must instead be something particular to the incident, not the person who committed the offence. Equally unusable as an argument is the fact that someone was only just over the legal limit. The level of the reading will affect the level of sentence imposed, but it cannot be used to argue that there is a special reason for not being disqualified.
If you want to argue that there are special reasons to avoid being disqualified you will still need to enter a guilty plea, but will then have to call evidence to support what you say, for instance, if you say you were driving an ill person to hospital during a strike by ambulance drivers, you will have to call that ill person as a witness. The evidence won't be required on the first day that you appear at court, as the case will be adjourned that day and a new date arranged which is convenient for everyone to attend. At the trial date the magistrates will hear all the evidence. Once they have done this they will decide whether there is a special reason, and if so whether or not they should still impose the disqualification. Just because the magistrates find that a special reason exists does not mean drivers are guaranteed to avoid being disqualified, it simply means that magistrates have the discretion to do this.
It is extremely difficult to avoid a disqualification for drink driving, but there are ways that it may be possible to get the disqualification reduced. These ways depend on how long the disqualification is for. For a first offender the magistrates will normally offer the opportunity to attend the "Drink Driver Rehabilitation Course." This is a privately run course which costs about £250 to attend, but is money well spent. Successful completion of the course entitles the participant to a reduction of one quarter on the length of disqualification imposed. It also has another advantage. When a licence is returned following a ban the driver will find that his insurance premiums have gone up considerably, but attending this course will bring them down again. Even though they are unlikely to return to the level that they were prior to the ban, the savings made are likely to be more than the cost of the course in the first place.
If someone is disqualified for more than two years then they can apply, either after two years or at the half way stage of the ban - whichever is the later - to have it lifted. This involves making an application to the magistrates, who will want to know what steps have taken to ensure that the offender does not drink and drive again, what has happened to them since the ban was imposed and what impact the ban has had on them, together with their future plans should they get their licence returned.
Legal Help at Court and Legal Aid
Each magistrate's court operates a free duty solicitor service, which is available to a person on the day that they first appear in court. The duty solicitor can discuss their case, advise them as to whether or not they have any sort of realistic defence or special reasons argument, and then represent them in court. They cannot however continue to represent a defendant on later hearings unless the person either pay for their services or qualifies for legal aid. Legal aid is very tightly regulated, and for a first offence most people are unlikely to qualify for it, whatever level of income they may have.
Instructing a Solicitor
If someone chooses to instruct a solicitor then the solicitor will take over the conduct of the case for them. They will prepare statements for the client, conduct the cross examination of any prosecution witnesses and argue their client's case before the magistrates. If the driver is arguing special reasons then it is for them to prove this on the balance of probabilities. This means that the driver and his legal team have to satisfy the court that it is more likely than not that they did have a special reason.
How Can We Help?
Having a drink driving conviction can cause other difficulties such as:
- Increased insurance premiums
- Your employer will see your conviction if you have to drive for work
- You may have problems travelling to some countries e.g. the USA
Our experienced lawyers are able to offer advice covering all aspects of motor and road traffic offences, as well as represent you in any cases involving personal injury.
For information of users: This material is published for the information of clients. It provides only an overview of the regulations in force at the date of publication, and no action should be taken without consulting the detailed legislation or seeking professional advice. Therefore no responsibility for loss occasioned by any person acting or refraining from action as a result of the material can be accepted by the authors or the firm.