Drink Driving Laws

Drink Driving Laws come under the Road Traffic Act 1988 which created two offences under UK Law.

The first is drink driving or attempting to drive a motor vehicle after consuming so much alcohol that the proportion of it in your breach, blood or urine exceeds the prescribed limit.  The second is being in charge of a motor vehicle whilst in that condition.

Drink Driving Laws

The definition of ‘driving’ can extend beyond the level that one would normally accept.  It may include a passenger who leans over to steer a vehicle.  Equally you remain the driver even if you have exited the vehicle.  It can include sitting astride a motorcycle and being pushed.  It can include sitting in a driver’s seat and steering whilst you are being towed.

‘Attempting to drive’ is more complicated and encompassing.  Placing the keys in the ignition is certainly an attempt.  Standing outside the vehicle is not.  In between the two are various acts that will be decided upon a case by case basis.

‘Being in charge’ of a vehicle only requires you to exercise some control over it.  Usually it will be used if there is evidence that the vehicle had been recently driven.  It would cover things such as sitting in the driver’s seat without the keys in ignition.  It is a defence to this charge for the defendant to proof that there was no likelihood of him driving.

Failing to Provide a Breath Specimen

This mean a procedure using a device of a type approved by the Secretary of State under S6A(1) RTA 1988.  Many devices have now been approved and the days when their accuracy was a live issue have gone.

The breath test must be administered by an officer in uniform.  The purpose of this is to ensure that the defendant is able to tell that the tester is a police officer.  It does not have to be full uniform – there is no requirement to wear a cap or a helmet.  But he must not be in plain clothes.

If a person does not provide a preliminary test then they cannot be convicted if they have ‘reasonable excuse’ for failing to provide a breath specimen under drink driving laws.  It is for the defendant to show that he did have reasonable excuse.  Largely this covers a medical condition which must be evidenced by the defendant.

A simple view that he has not committed the main offence is not sufficient.
However, a phobia over testing equipment may be sufficient to constitute reasonable excuse although, of course, it is open to the Court to disbelieve that a phobia existed or was the motivation.

Giving A Blood Sample for Drink Driving

If the breath testing device is unavailable then a specimen of blood or urine may be required.  The defendant is not entitled to choose which device he uses.  A breath testing device will generally be the preference of the police and they will only depart from that if the machine is unavailable, unreliable or there is some other practicable reason.

If blood or urine specimens are to be required, it is the choice of the officer which specimen is taken.  The only exception is where a medical practitioner is of the view that blood cannot and should not be taken.  Only then urine must be required.

However, if a defendant advances legitimate reasons for refusing a blood test, the exercise of the officer’s discretion will be considered.  The case of Joseph v DPP involved a man who refused a blood test on religious grounds but an officer insisted upon it.  The Court held that the officer’s choice was so unreasonable as to be unlawful.

A defendant who has provided two specimens of breath, the lower of which is no greater than 50 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath may insist upon a blood or urine test.  If such a test is taken then neither of the two breath test results can be used by the Crown.  If a defendant elects to provide such a test, then the choice of blood or urine remains for the officer.

The prescribed alcohol limits are 35 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath.

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