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Drink Driving Penalties First Offence – What You Need to Know

When you get behind the wheel of a car after consuming alcohol, you are taking an enormous risk. You could cause serious injury to yourself and others on the road with your impaired driving skills. With just one drink, it is possible for your reaction time to slow by up to 50%. What’s more, if you have had two or three drinks before driving, there is a 200% increased chance that you will be involved in a fatal accident. With the risks so great, the best thing is to always avoid drinking altogether if you are planning on driving later. 

But what happens if you are already facing a drink driving conviction? 

In this article we will explore some of the consequences and sentencing related to first-time offenders who drive under the influence of alcohol in the UK.


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Man drink driving

Why is Drink Driving so Dangerous?

Drink driving is so dangerous because even a relatively small amount of alcohol in your system can impair your judgement and affect your ability to drive. Alcohol slows all of your physical and mental reactions, and especially on the UK’s busy roads, you need to be able to react in a split second to potential hazards. Alcohol can also make you drowsy which creates the risk of losing concentration or even falling asleep at the wheel. Furthermore, some people experience blurred vision after drinking, which can mean that you don’t notice a potential hazard until it is too late. 

How Many Accidents are Caused Each Year by Drink Driving in the UK?

Each year drink driving is a factor in tens of thousands of accidents which result in various degrees of damage, injuries, and even death. According to the Department for Transport, between 400 and 500 people are killed each year by drivers who have been drinking alcohol before they drive. In addition, there are thousands of injuries sustained in drink driving related accidents, as well as millions of pounds worth of damage done to vehicles and other property. The numbers are increasing year on year, with twice as many drink driving related incidents in 2019 than in 2017.

Drink Driving Sentencing Guidelines in the UK

In 2016 it was announced that new sentencing guidelines would be put into place to help judges with their decisions related to first time offenders who are charged with drink driving offences. These new laws include reducing the maximum penalty from two years imprisonment (which could rise if there were aggravating features) down to a 14 months’ prison sentence. The minimum disqualification period has been reduced too; instead of imposing an automatic 12-month ban, magistrates have more scope now when deciding on whether or not you would be allowed to drive again once you have finished serving your sentence.

The New Sentencing Guidelines in Detail

  • Those charged with having low levels of alcohol in their system (less than 35 micrograms) can also expect a reduced penalty – the maximum prison sentence has been cut from six months to just eight weeks, and there is no longer an automatic disqualification period.
  • Those with a reading under 50mg per 100ml (which equates to around two pints of normal strength beer) will have their charge downgraded if they plead guilty at court. For example, someone who had previously been charged with ‘driving or attempting to drive while above the legal limit’ now faces being prosecuted for ‘driving or attempting to drive without insurance.’ This means that people can avoid having any criminal conviction recorded against them when pleading guilty as well as avoiding receiving points on their licence which would affect their next car insurance quote in future years. It also removes the need to pay the fine for having a drink driving conviction as it is replaced with the lower-level penalty.
  • For those who were driving under the influence of alcohol but had a blood or breath reading between 50mg and 80mg per 100ml, the maximum penalty was reduced from two years down to 14 months imprisonment. The minimum disqualification period has been cut too – instead of automatically imposing an 12-month ban, magistrates now have the power to allow people to get back behind the wheel after just six months if it is determined that they will not present any further danger on Britain’s roads.
  • Those with a reading of more than 80mg per 100ml will now face a fine and an automatic disqualification period of at least two years. This is even if they plead guilty, as well as avoiding any penalty points on their licence; meaning that it would be 12 months before you could legally drive again in the UK. 

The aim of these new sentencing guidelines is to provide judges and magistrates with a more comprehensive list of punishments which they can impose when dealing with first time drink driving offences. The hope is that the new sentences will help the courts to make better informed decisions about how best to punish offenders while recognising that there are mitigating factors, and that people who make a stupid mistake often deserve a second chance.


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Send us a message or call us on 0333 443 2366 for friendly advice


Drink driving crash

What if You Refuse to Give a Sample?

While these new guidelines have made sentencing more lenient in general, this is only the case if you fully cooperate with the police and courts. If you refuse to give samples or fail to provide sufficient breath or blood for analysis, you can expect a longer prison sentence – up from six months to eight months with no opportunity for early release. In addition, your licence will be disqualified for at least two years. You will also face higher fines (up from £200 to £500) and a longer compulsory driving ban (from one year up to four). If convicted twice within ten years, you may not only find yourself banned from driving indefinitely but sent straight back into custody too.

What if You Cause Death or Serious Injury?

Again, in these cases, sentencing guidelines have not become more lenient. If you are charged with causing death by dangerous driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs then this remains a charge that can result in up to 14 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine. The same applies if you cause serious injury while drink driving – these offences may lead to five years’ imprisonment and/or a £5000 fine (if dealt with at magistrates court). You might also face higher sentencing levels if there were aggravating features present, such as drink driving in a high risk area like near a school.

Do First Time Offenders Get More Lenient Sentences?

A first time drink driving offence is often dealt with more leniently. There are many different factors that play a part in sentencing but generally if it is your first offence you may get off with just paying the fine and losing your license. In some cases, judges will not even have to take action against a defendant who has been caught for drink driving provided they offer suitable mitigation. This is because courts understand that people make mistakes and once someone has their first conviction on their record this can cause them all sorts of problems when applying for jobs or traveling abroad. As long as nobody was hurt, you weren’t way over the limit, and you show genuine remorse, the court will often look to give you a proverbial slap on the wrist and advise you to never do it again.


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Send us a message or call us on 0333 443 2366 for friendly advice


What Other Factors May Affect Your Sentence?

There are many other factors that will determine how severe your sentence is if convicted for driving under the influence of alcohol. These include whether there was a lack of intent on your part, previous convictions, a history of alcoholism, and the injury and damage caused. Some magistrates might opt for imposing higher sentencing levels because they feel it necessary to make an example out of you, but if it is a first offence and minimal damage or injury was caused, others may decide to give you a lower sentence because they understand that people make mistakes.

The Need for Legal Representation 

Whatever the circumstances of your drink driving case, it is vital that you hire a lawyer to represent you. A first time drink driving offence is a criminal offence, and you need to take it very seriously, even if there was no injury or damage caused. A lawyer will be able to file all of your court documents, explain the complex legal procedures to you, prepare your defence, and recommend to you the best way forward. They will know what is a reasonable sentence to expect, and will know the best ways to attempt to reduce any sentence given. If you do end up with a harsh sentence as a result of your original trial, your lawyer can also help you to plan and present an appeal to try and get your sentence reduced at a later time.

How to Choose the Right Lawyer

You should always choose a lawyer who specializes in driving related crimes. They will have all the requisite knowledge and experience to help ensure the best possible outcome in your case. You should also check their record at successfully representing clients who were in similar legal trouble to you. At Caddick Davies Motor Defence Lawyers, we offer free initial consultations as part of our service (which usually take around half an hour) where you get to meet with us and explain your situation. We can then explain how we would go about representing you, so that you can decide whether you want to hire us or not.


Contact Caddick Davies Solicitors today

Send us a message or call us on 0333 443 2366 for friendly advice


Drink driving lawyer

Why Do People Drive When Over the Limit?

There are many different reasons why someone would risk drinking and then getting behind a wheel: perhaps they don’t have the money for a taxi, or maybe it’s just easier than waiting around for public transport. Some people don’t believe that drink driving is a big deal, and that as long as they don’t get caught, there is no harm done. But drink driving is incredibly dangerous, and if you do get caught, there are some serious legal consequences.

How to Plan a Night Out Without Drink Driving

The best way to ensure that you won’t be convicted for drink driving offences is to never, ever mix alcohol and driving. Even if you are only planning to have one or two drinks, make it a personal rule that you always plan alternative means for getting home. This may be public transport, a taxi, or getting a lift from a friend or relative who hasn’t been drinking. If you have a social group who regularly goes out drinking together, alternate being designated driver for the whole group. If there are five of you, this means that you will only have to drive one out of every five nights out. Not only will this keep you all safe, it will also save you a lot of money on taxis and Ubers.

Final Thoughts

There is no doubt that drink driving is a serious offence and the UK sentencing guidelines reflect this. Especially if you have caused injury or death as a result of drink driving, you could be facing a daunting sentence. However, if you are a first time offender, particularly if you are young, there is a strong chance that the court will be more lenient with you. If your drink driving incident didn’t cause harm or death, then there is an even better chance of a more favourable sentence. Make sure you get in touch with us at so that we can discuss the circumstances of your case, and decide on the best way to go forward.


Contact Caddick Davies Solicitors today

Send us a message or call us on 0333 443 2366 for friendly advice


Motoring Lawyer at Caddick Davies Solicitors
Caddick Davies is recognised as one of England and Wales’ leading motoring law firms, offering specialist Speeding Solicitors, Drink Driving Solicitors & Dangerous Driving Solicitors.We provide advice and representation on all motoring offences including speeding, the avoidance of disqualification on penalty points or “totting up” (exceptional hardship), driving without due care and attention (careless driving), dangerous driving, drink driving, as well as a range of services related to medical revocation of a driving licence.
Neil Davies

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