Frequently Asked Questions
- Is drink driving a criminal offence?
- What is the legal drink driving limit in the UK?
- When can the police require a breath test at the roadside?
- What happens if I fail the road side breath test but pass at the police station?
- How long does a drink driving endorsement stay on my license?
- How long does a drink driving conviction stay on my record?
- What are the drink driving penalties for a first offence?
Yes, drink driving is a criminal offence under Section 5(a) of the Road Traffic Act 1988. Driving while exceeding the legal limit can result in a criminal record, a driving disqualification, an unlimited fine and in serious cases a prison sentence!
In England and Wales the legal alcohol limit for driving is:
- 35 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath; or
- 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood; or
- 107 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine
In Scotland the legal alcohol limit for driving is:
- 22 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath; or
- 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood; or
- 67 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine
The police have the power to stop vehicles at random, however they cannot perform completely random breath tests.
A preliminary roadside breath alcohol test can be required if a police officer reasonably suspects that a person:
- is currently driving, attempting to drive or is in charge of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or
- has been driving, attempting to drive or in charge of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or
- has committed a traffic offence while driving a vehicle that was in motion regardless of whether or not the police officer reasonably suspects a driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
A police officer will administer a preliminary breath alcohol test as routine if they reasonably believe a person was driving, attempting to drive or in charge of a vehicle at the time of an accident on a road or other public place.
It is an offence to fail to co-operate with a preliminary roadside breath test.
Usually, a person who fails a road side breath test but passes an evidential breath test at the police station will be released without charge and no further action will be taken.
In certain cases, however, the police could seek to prove that they were in fact over the legal prescribed limit at the time of the alleged incident, despite being under the limit at the time a breath specimen was taken.
This is achieved by carrying out a 'back calculation'. A forensic toxicologist will use the alcohol concentration in a persons blood or breath as a starting point in order to calculate what the level of alcohol in a persons system would have been at an earlier point in time (time of alleged offence).
The police will provide the forensic toxicologist with information including a persons sex, weight, age, height and build along with information concerning alcohol, food and medication consumption.
Back calculations are generally only performed in serious cases only where serious injury or fatalities have occurred.
A drink driving endorsement (DR10) will remain on your licence for a period of 11 years from the date of conviction.
The exact time period other drink driving related endorsements will remain on your driving licence will depend on the offence you are convicted of. See table below:
|Drink Driving Related Endorsements|
|Offence||On driving licence for|
|DR10 - Drive or attempt to drive with excess alcohol||11 years|
|DR20 - Drive or attempt to drive while unfit through drink||11 years|
|DR30 - Failing to provide a specimen for analysis while driving or attempting to drive||11 years|
|DR31 - Drive or attempt to drive then refusing to give permission for analysis of a blood sample that was taken without consent due to incapacity||11 years|
|Endorsement codes DR40 - DR70 remain on your driving licence for 4 years from the date of offence OR 4 years from the date of conviction where a disqualification was imposed for the offence.|
|DR40 - In charge of a vehicle while alcohol level above limit||4 years|
|DR50 - In charge of a vehicle while unfit through drink||4 years|
|DR60 - Failure to provide a specimen for analysis while in charge of a vehicle||4 years|
|DR70 - Failing to provide a specimen of breath at the road side||4 years|
The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA) enables most criminal convictions to be classed as 'spent' after a set period of time ('the rehabilitation period').
Once a conviction is classed as 'spent' and for most purposes, a person is seen as rehabilitated and should be treated as though they had never committed, been charged with, convicted and sentenced for the offence which is spent. This means they do not have to declare the spent conviction when applying for most jobs and insurance.
The rehabilitation period varies and in most cases depends on the sentence imposed or the disposal administered rather than the actual offence committed. You can view detailed information on rehabilitation periods including the period of time before convictions are classed as 'spent' and exceptions to the Rehabilitation of Offenders here.
The minimum penalty upon conviction of a first drink driving offence in the UK is a 12 month driving disqualification and a band B fine.
Any period of disqualification imposed can be reduced by taking and completing a drink driving rehabilitation scheme (DDRS) course. The course must be offered by the courts at the time of sentencing.
This is the minimum penalty that can be imposed for drink driving, the level of alcohol in a persons system is a crucial factor that courts consider when determining the appropriate penalty.
A lengthy disqualification, an unlimited fine, a community order and up to 26 weeks in custody could be imposed for a first offence if a drink driver had a high level of alcohol in their system.