According to a British Social Attitudes Survey from 2011, 77% respondents agreed with this question: “Most people don't know how much alcohol they can drink before being over the legal drink drive limit?"
In the UK the legal limit is 35 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath, or 80 miligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. By comparison, in France, Germany and the Netherlands the legal alcohol limit is 50 in blood and there is a proposal for the Scottish Parliament to legislate, using devolved powers, to bring in a reduced legal limit also to 50 in blood. Whether the limit here is higher or lower than the continent or is zero, the same issues will always arise. First of all, despite the efforts of campaigners and Government funded education programmes, many drivers simply do not know when they would be safe to drive and what is an acceptable limit of alcohol to have in their body. This lack of awareness is true not only when a driver has got in their car after leaving a bar or a restaurant, but also when it is the morning after a heavy night before and alcohol is still in their system. Drivers stopped and breathalysed at the roadside by a police officer are likely to accept at face value the result of the test and conclude that they must have had too much to drink and therefore that they have been driving under the influence (DUI). In some cases, drivers have been taking a chance and know they are over the limit. In others, there is a genuine lack of awareness which is why Parliament advocates that those convicted of a drink driving related offence should attend a drink drive rehabilitation course.
But drivers should not necessarily accept their guilt without challenge. The fact that Parliament has put in place a number of legal safeguards (random stopping/random breath tests; grounds for arrest, type approval of evidential breath machines; a statutory procedure to be followed when conducting a breath test at the police station, as well as observance of manufacturer’s instructions) only reinforces the view that this is a complex area of law and drivers should not simply assume that the correct procedure has been followed. The consequences of accepting guilt without challenge can be quite substantial – a criminal record, a fine or worse and of course a mandatory driving disqualification for drink driving or failing to provide a specimen for analysis. Equally, the difference between a conviction and an acquittal is the difference between a well prepared and argued case and one that simply is not. Whilst it is understandable for a driver in those circumstances, when they have been stopped by the police and have failed a roadside breath test, to believe that the reading provided is correct and not to challenge the prosecution, it is our experience that some cases do have fundamental errors. In one case, Philip Somarakis represented a drink driver who provided two valid specimens of breath, both of which were over the limit, but he still had his case discontinued by the prosecution.
If the police reasonably suspect that a person has driven whilst drunk or been drunk in charge of a motor vehicle then they can require that person to undergo a roadside screening test and if positive a specimen for analysis at a police station. The procedure at the police station will be to require the suspect to provide two evidential breath specimens. If the lower of the two readings is below the legal limit then the suspect will be released without charge. In limited cases, where the lower reading is marginally above the drink drive limit, between 36-39, the police have a discretion not to charge, although a roadside breath reading at this level may still result in the driver being arrested.
Where the lower reading contains no more than 50 microgrammes of alcohol then the suspect will be offered the choice of replacing the breath sample with one of either blood or urine, although it will be for the police to decide which one that will be if the option is exercised.
The penalties for drink driving can be serious.
Drink Driving Articles/Case Studies