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Drunk in Charge of a Vehicle – The Potential Legal Consequences

Operating a vehicle when drunk is a serious offence in the UK, with severe legal consequences. One of the biggest sources of confusion around drink driving is how much alcohol you are legally allowed to drink before driving. Some people think that they are fine to drive even after having a few drinks because they don’t feel drunk. However, what the law defines as you being too drunk to drive may be very different to the amount of alcohol you think you can safely consume before driving.

In this article, we will explain why it’s so dangerous to operate a vehicle while drunk, what your legal consequences are if you’re caught, and the steps you can take to try and reduce your sentence.

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Drinking while driving

Why is Being Drunk in Charge of a Vehicle So Dangerous?

Safe driving is all about staying alert, thinking clearly, and reacting to potential hazards immediately. However, drinking alcohol can cause symptoms such as slurred speech, lack of coordination or balance, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, loss of consciousness, impaired thinking and judgment, and emotional reactivity. Driving while intoxicated is dangerous because it affects your brain function and your body’s ability to operate your vehicle properly. Even if you don’t feel drunk, you may still be unable to drive safely because alcohol causes your judgment and decision-making skills to decline before you feel the physical effects of drinking. This is why it is best to avoid alcohol altogether when you know you will be driving afterwards.

What Alcohol Levels Constitute Drunk Driving in the UK?

In the UK, driving when under the influence of alcohol is punishable by law and your blood-alcohol level must not exceed the legal limits. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, these levels are 80mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood, 35mcg of alcohol in 100ml of breath, or 107mg in 100ml of urine. In Scotland, the levels are 50mg in 100ml of blood, 22mcg in 100ml of breath, or 67mg in 100ml of urine.

Different people react differently to alcohol and factors like your age, weight, and general health and fitness will affect how quickly your body processes alcohol and clears it from your systems. However, for most people, staying below these limits usually means drinking less than two pints of lager, three shots of spirits, or a large glass of wine.

What are the Drink Driving Numbers in the UK?

If you look at the numbers pre-2020 when Covid caused a major decline in road use, the extent of the problem becomes clear. In 2019 alone, there were more than three hundred people killed as the result of drink driving, which was a 20% increase from the year before.

Half of all fatal road accidents, and those which cause serious injury, are now thought to be caused by drink driving. With these figures increasing year on year, there will continue to be tragic consequences.

What Factors will Influence your Sentence?

If you have been convicted of being drunk while in charge of a vehicle then there are various factors which could influence the severity of your sentence. These include:

  • Number of offences – If you have previously been convicted for another driving offence, the judge may be more likely to hand down a harsher sentence. This is because they have seen that previous attempts at rehabilitation haven’t worked for you and so feel that prison time might be a better option.
  • Genuine remorse – If the court feels that you are sincerely remorseful about what has happened, this will show them that there wasn’t any intentionality behind your actions. Depending on the other factors involved, the court may be more willing to give you another chance.
  • Level of alcohol present in blood or breath analysis reading – The higher the level when you are tested after your arrest, the more likelihood of a harsher sentence. .
  • Seriousness of harm caused– If there was any form of injury or death involved then this will obviously increase the likelihood of going to prison than if there was only damage or disorder caused. The judge may decide that even though you did not intend to harm anybody, that was ultimately the result of your actions. In this case, they will need to take into account the justice that the victim deserves when deciding on your sentence.

    Contact Caddick Davies Solicitors today

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

Drink driving accident

What are the Recommended Sentencing Guidelines?

With all of the above factors involved, sentences vary from case to case. However, the recommended sentencing guidelines for the offence of driving with excess alcohol in England and Wales are:

  • Less than 35 micrograms of alcohol in breath – Band C fine (up to £500) or disqualification from driving for up to 56 days.
  • More than 35mcg but not more than 80mcg – Band B fine (up to £1000) or imprisonment up to six months, a discretionary ban, extended re-test.
  • More than 80mcg but not more than 112mcg – Band A fine (up to £2500), automatic licence endorsement for at least three years, minimum one year sentence if you cause death by dangerous driving while over this limit. You will be disqualified from holding a driving licence continuously for at least two years.
  • More than 112mcg – Band A fine (up to £2500), imprisonment for at least seven days, extended re-test.
  • Over 400mcg – Automatic licence endorsement for at least three years, a minimum two year sentence if you cause death by dangerous driving while over this limit. You will be disqualified from holding a driving licence continuously for at least four years.

What are the Legal Consequences if Someone is Hurt or Killed in the UK by a Drunk Driver?

If you are convicted of injuring or killing someone while drink driving than the legal consequences can be very serious. The above factors will be taken into account, but potential penalties may include:

  • A custodial prison sentence – The maximum sentence if you are found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving is a fourteen-year custodial sentence. This drops to five years if you seriously injured someone but nobody died.
  • A serious fine – There is no limit to drink driving fines, though they are dependent on the specifics of your case, as well as your income and financial situation. Drink driving accidents cause £30,000 of damage on average, and most people can expect a fine of anything from £500 to many tens of thousands.
  • A lengthy driving ban – Any potential ban is likewise dependant on the circumstances of the incident, but if someone dies as a result of your drink driving then you can expect to be banned for minimum of three years if the victim was over sixteen, and minimum of five years if they were under sixteen. However, there is no limit to the potential ban you could receive, so you may find that after completing a fourteen-year prison sentence, you are still banned for life from driving. For less serious incidents where nobody was hurt, you may be banned for six months, a year, or however long the court deems fit.
  • A vehicle taking order – The court may also decide to take your vehicle, and modify it with an alcohol ignition lock. This is a device that tests the levels of alcohol on your breath. If the levels are over the limit, you will be unable to start the car.
  • A civil lawsuit – If you injured or killed someone as a result of your drink driving, they or their family may seek financial compensation from you in a civil case.
  • Negative driving and criminal records – You can also expect points on your licence, high insurance fees, and a criminal record.

Why You Need a Lawyer in a Drink Driving Case

If you are charged with drink driving, the first thing that you need to do is hire a lawyer with extensive experience in representing clients with drink driving charges. There are various reasons why you need a lawyer:

  • Lawyers are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills that will enable them to represent you in court. Lawyers have legal training which gives them insights into how the law works, what evidence is required for a conviction and other such information needed to successfully defend someone charged with drink driving in court.
  • Your lawyer will be able to take over the emotional burden of your case. Drink driving charges are usually very stressful and emotional but your lawyer will know how to put you more at ease, which will then enable them to get the best out of you during a potential trial.
  • Your lawyer will help you to get the best possible sentencing outcome. If you are a first time offender, they may even be able to get the charges reduced or dismissed. They can also negotiate with the prosecution team for lesser penalties such as community service in lieu of jail time, or a fine instead of a licence suspension.

Ask any lawyer that you interview to tell you about their track record with cases like yours so that you can make sure you are hiring the best possible legal representation.

Contact Caddick Davies Solicitors today

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

Drink driving lawyer

Can a Drink Driving Sentence be Reduced?

There are various mitigating factors which your lawyer may be able to present in order to have your sentence reduced. These include:

  • If you pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity.
  • If there are other mitigating factors that may be relevant in reducing a sentence, such as if you have tried to get help for substance misuse in the past.
  • If this was the first offence and you have an otherwise clean driving and criminal record.
  • If nobody was injured as a result of your actions.
  • If you were apprehended drink driving in a time or place where there was less risk to others. For example, drink driving at 3am on the motorway is less dangerous than at 3pm near a school.
  • The levels of alcohol in your system.

How Long does a Drink Driving Conviction Stay on your Record in the UK?

A drink driving conviction will stay on your record for 11 years from the date of your last conviction, even if you are convicted in other countries. It’s important to note that convictions won’t show up on a standard criminal background check done by employers and landlords, but it will be visible to insurance companies after three months when they receive notification about the offence. If you have been disqualified or refused a licence due to drinking while under 21 then this information stays with DVLA forever. Despite this 11 year record, however, the convictions are considered “spent” after five years, or after any custodial prison sentence is completed.

How can you Avoid Drink Driving?

The best thing to do is to avoid drink driving altogether. There are various alternatives to driving yourself home after a night out with your friends or an evening at a restaurant. Make use of public transport when it is available, take a taxi, or take it in turns with your friends to be the designated driver on nights out. Some people try to push it right to the limit, and “just” have a couple of drinks when they go out, but you don’t know whether just a couple will actually mean you are over the limit. Remember that the law doesn’t exist to ruin people’s fun. It exists to keep people safe.

Final Thoughts

Being drunk when in charge of a vehicle can be very, very dangerous and so the legal implications are extremely serious. If you have been charged with a drink driving offence, then it is absolutely crucial that you hire an experienced lawyer who will be able to represent you. There are various determining factors that go into a sentencing decision, and your lawyer will know which ones to point out to the court in order to give you the best possible chance of receiving leniency. If nobody was hurt, you may be lucky and get away with just a hefty fine and a driving ban, but the incident was more serious, you will need expert legal advice and representation because you could be facing a lengthy custodial sentence.

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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