Drink driving offences: What are the penalties?

Drink Driving has again been at the forefront of news stories following TV favourite Ant McPartlin, better known as Ant from Ant and Dec, arrested after a collision involving three vehicles, causing minor injuries. Now it has hit the headlines that his court hearing date has been adjourned.

We had hoped to blog about the outcome of the hearing as speculation has been rife about the type of penalty Ant will face if found guilty, how much he may have drunk and why he took the decision to drive when he could have afforded a taxi at no great expense or could even hire himself a driver! Due to the adjourned hearing we won’t know more for a while, so let’s address what we do know about these types of offences.

The fact is that this is an offence we have seen many celebrities fall foul of the law on in the last few years despite the publicity about the risks and the stigma attached to it. We will never know exactly why people take the decision to drive having consumed alcohol, and in Ant’s case it sadly seems to have been a bad decision made against a background from much bigger issues which he has been very public about.

Until his court hearing takes place we won’t have answers to all the questions in the media about the circumstances of the offence and possible penalties the TV presenter may face however we can speculate a little based on what we do know in accordance with the Sentencing Guidelines the Magistrates’ Court will follow.

If convicted of drink driving, and it is the first drink-drive related offence the offender has committed in the last 10 years, then in the absence of any special reasons they will be given a minimum mandatory 12 month driving disqualification. We get a lot of calls from people asking whether they can avoid the imposition of a driving ban for the offence because of the hardship it would cause, for example, loss of a job. Whilst this is taken into the account by the court for other offences that carry a driving disqualification, such as speeding, for drink driving offences hardship is irrelevant. The minimum disqualification will rise as the alcohol level detected in the body increases. In the case of repeat offenders the minimum disqualification is 3 years regardless of the alcohol reading.

Along with the drink driving disqualification there will always be an additional element to the penalty, again the severity of the additional element increases as the alcohol level increases. This can be anything from a fine of 150% weekly income to a community order.  If the level of alcohol in your body is above a certain level at the time you are caught then the Sentencing Guidelines used by the courts recommend that an immediate custodial sentence of up to 6 months is imposed. It is irrelevant whether it is a “one-off” offence and at the very least in these circumstances a high level community order will be imposed. In fact, outside of the least serious offences where the alcohol level is only marginally over the legal limit, it is likely that a community order will be imposed alongside the mandatory driving ban. This shows just how seriously the courts take the offence and the kind of implications risked when a person gets behind the wheel having consumed alcohol.

In Ant’s case it is difficult to speculate on exactly what sentence he will be looking at if convicted as we do not yet know his alcohol reading. What we can be certain of however is that he will be given a minimum 12 month driving disqualification and a hefty fine! This disqualification may be reduced by 25% if the court offer him attendance on a drink driver rehabilitation course and he completes that within the specified time limit. It is likely that the scale of the accident caused and the fact that minor injuries were involved will serve to aggravate the matter and the disqualification will likely increase to reflect this.

Interestingly Ant was asked to give a blood sample which is unusual in these cases as a breath sample will usually be sufficient evidence on which to charge upon. The reason for this decision could be because the presenter was only marginally over the limit and thus a blood test was completed as a precaution, or whether it was taken due to Ant’s well publicised stint in rehab and public confessions to addiction to prescription drugs in order to check whether there was anything else in his system that would have made it illegal for him to drive. Indeed the police searched his car and confirmed that no drugs were found.

Drug driving offences, like Drink Driving offences, are strict liability and are committed purely on the basis of a specific substance being present in the body beyond a certain level. Breath tests can pick up the presence of certain drugs but then a blood test would always be carried out to test for the presence others and to identify the exact level of drug in the system. Like drink driving a minimum 12 month driving disqualification is mandatory upon conviction and the sentences increase upwards from there.

Thankfully in Ant’s case it has been made public that he has been charged only with drink driving which suggests there were no findings of drugs in his system.

Hopefully some good can come of Ant’s poor behavior in the publicity that is has brought, focusing and educating the public on drink driving offences once again. It is hoped that everyone can learn lessons from Ant’s case and think twice before they get behind the wheel after having even one drink.

If you do find yourself in the unfortunate position of having been arrested for a drink or drug drive related offence and you have questions please get in contact with us on 0115 910 6239 for some free initial advice. See our Motoring Law page for the full range of services