‘Tis the season to be merry!’ Finally December has arrived, with its twinkling lights and promise of festive fun and joy. You want to make the most of it…and this can involve rushing around between social events, saying ‘yes!’ to that invitation to stay a bit longer for ‘just one more’…and now you think about it, you’re not quite sure what they’ve chucked in to the mulled wine. Let SMQ Legal guide you through the potential dangers of the party season for drivers – to ensure that you stay on the road through 2019 and beyond. Feel free to call us on 01865 246991; we are specialists in Driver Defence and our aim is to keep you driving with the minimum of disruption.
Al drivers should of course be aware that driving on a public road with a breath alcohol level of 35 microgrammes or above is an offence: sentence varies according to alcohol level and circumstances, and can range from a fine up to six months’ imprisonment, plus a driving ban of at least a year. The ban can rise to three years if you are convicted twice in ten years. Failing to provide a specimen of breath when asked by the police is also an offence with the same range of penalties.
You may not know however that even for being in charge of a vehicle while above the breath-alcohol limit you can receive up to 3 months’ imprisonment or a fine of up to 2500. So if for example you leave the party for a bit, intending only to sit in your car and have a break from the guy who keeps trapping you in a corner to tell you about his ParkRun times…if you’re sitting in the car with alcohol in your system above the legal limit, in a place to which the public have access, you could be charged with being ‘drunk in charge’. This carries a mandatory ten points or a discretionary disqualification, plus a sentence ranging from a financial penalty to up to 3 months’ imprisonment. There is a defence available, but the ‘burden’ would be on you at trial to prove that you had no intention of driving the car while still over the limit : you would need specialist help with this and we would be happy to help.
There is more awareness now of the possibility of drinks being ‘spiked’. As a driver, you should be aware that driving with excess alcohol in your system is a ‘strict liability’ offence and therefore it is not a defence to argue that you didn’t voluntarily consume the amount of alcohol which found its way into your system. If you can establish that your drinks were spiked, it might amount however to a ‘special reason’ not to disqualify you for the offence. Where the Magistrates find such a ‘special reason’ , which must relate to the offence and not the offender, and they are also satisfied that without the spiking or lacing you would not have been over the limit, they may choose to use their discretion not to disqualify you for the offence. There are other possible situation swhich can give rise to ‘special reasons’ not to disqualify or impose points, and we can advise you about these if required.
There are relatively new offences of drug-driving , introduced in 2015. These laws mean that the presence of the drug above a certain level is now an offence, and the prosecution no longer have to prove that the quality of the driver’s driving was impaired, as was previously required. If you have any doubt about substances in your system, the best advice of course is not to drive at all.
You may of course b one of those people who prefers to keep a clear head; but maybe you’re so organised and focused on being punctual that you don’t always keep an eye on the speedometer. Most speeding offences are classed as ‘minor offences and receive a Fixed Penalty Notice of 100 fine plus 3 points on your licence. You may be able to avoid the points and attend a speed awareness course instead, for example if it is your first offence or you haven’t attended such a course in the last three years. The range of points available for a speeding offence is 3-6, and discretionary disqualification is also available to the court for serious cases; the financial penalty is up to 100 or up to 2500 if you were speeding on a motorway.
Drivers should be aware that they are breaking the law as soon as they exceed the speed limit even by 1mph; the ‘10% leeway’ your mate in the pub told you about is only a recommendation to prosecutors and not the law.
Note that for speeding offences as well as other offences such as dangerous or careless driving, you must be given a Notice of Intended Prosecution by the police; this can be done verbally at the roadside, but if not it must be posted or served on you within 14 days. It is a requirement before a prosecution can proceed; so if you think it has been omitted in your case you should contact us.
If you acquire 12 ‘active’ points on your licence you are of course a ‘totter’ and will usually receive an immediate 6-month disqualification as a result. Such a ban can of course be devastating. If this is something you are facing, please give us a call. If the court accepts that you, or others (such as employees of your company), would suffer Exceptional Hardship if you are banned, they can choose to use their discretion not to ban you. The most common argument used in these circumstances is that you will lose your job, and this will lead to serious financial hardship; however there are other situations which could qualify.
We are always happy to provide an initial free consultation on the phone. We will do everything possible to keep your motoring life on track!
Lucy Ffrench, Solicitor at Higher Courts Advocate at SMQ Legal Services