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Drink Driving Information And Penalties

Drink Driving Information & Penalties


Drink driving is one of the more common motoring offences and is also one of the more serious.


Under section 5 of Road Traffic Act 1988 it is an offence if a person


  • Drives or attempts to drive a motor vehicle on a road or other public place, or
  • Is in charge of a motor vehicle on a road or other public place,


after consuming so much alcohol that the proportion of it in his breath, blood or urine exceeds the prescribed limit


It is section 5(1)(a) that specifically makes it illegal to drink and drive and section 5(1)(b) sets out the slightly different offence of being in charge of a motor vehicle which is slightly less serious but attracts penalties that can have significant impact upon motorists.


Within UK law, section 11(2) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 stipulates the legal alcohol limits which are as follows:


  • 35 microgrammes (µg) of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath,
  • 80 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, or
  • 107 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of urine


When Suspected of Drink Driving


If you are stopped by a police officer who has reason to suspect that you are under the influence of alcohol, section 6 of the RTA 1988 empowers the officer to require you to comply with a preliminary roadside breath test. Refusing to take the test is an offence in itself.


It is important to note however that a roadside breath test is not essential to make an arrest as the officer can make an arrest if he has reasonable suspicion that an offence has been committed.


If you provide a positive preliminary sample (or the officer has reasonable grounds) then you will be arrested under suspicion of drink driving and conveyed to a police station. Upon your arrival at the police station you have various legal rights/entitlements that are important when considering any alcohol related allegation. There is a very strict procedure that the police must follow in order to properly build a case against you and many would be surprised at the number of mistakes or lapses officers make during this procedure.


The purpose of taking you into custody is for you to provide an “evidential sample” of breath, blood or urine. The roadside test cannot be used as evidence against you so it is the evidential sample taken at the police station that the Prosecution will need to in order to prove in court that you were over the prescribed limit.


Breath Sample


The first avenue for officers in this type of case is to require you to provide a sample of breath. This sample of breath will be taken on one of three breathalyser devices which are as follows:


  • The Lion Intoxilyser
  • The EC/IR Intoximeter
  • The CAMIC Datamaster


Each device has its own particular strengths and weakness but we have successfully challenged the reliability of all three devices.


If your breath result of 40µg or above then you will be charged. Anything less than 40µg is considered to be too low to justify a charge and no further action will be taken.


Blood & Urine Samples


If you are unable to provide a sample of breath (either due to a machine fault or a medical reason for example) the officer can require you provide a sample of blood to be taken by a healthcare professional or a sample of urine.


In the case of blood, a healthcare professional will be called to attend the police station and run through an assessment of you before you donate your sample. Two samples are required as the law stipulates that you must be offered a sample to have analysed independently whilst the police retain a sample for their own analysis.


If there are medical reasons as to why you cannot give a blood sample, or the officer elects to take a urine sample instead- then two samples are required.


When a suspect provides blood or urine, the sample must be analysed before formal charges can be brought as, at this stage, it is still unclear whether the motorist was actually above the prescribed limit. The police would usually release you on bail pending the results of the analysis during which time you can have your own sample analysed independently and likely receive your result much faster than the police receive their own.


If the sample tests positive, you will be charged with drink driving and bailed to attend court.


Drink Driving Penalties


Drink driving offences can attract some of the most severe penalties under road traffic law and all offences carry a minimum disqualification of 12 months and a level 5 potentially unlimited fine.


The penalties can become more severe depending on your previous convictions and how far over the legal limit you were. A summary of the sentencing guidelines is as follows:


Level of Alcohol

Starting point










Band C fine

Band C fine

12 – 16




Band C

Band C

17 – 22




Medium community order

Low to High community order

23 – 28




12 weeks custody

High level community – 23 weeks custody

29 – 36


If a motorist is before the court for his second drink driving offence within a 10 year period the minimum length of disqualification is three years. This also applies to offences of failing to provide a specimen and drug driving but not offences of being in charge of a vehicle.


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