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What happens if I’m caught drink driving?

It’s almost half a century since the breathalyser was introduced in the UK. When the technology was rolled out as part of the Road Safety Act it heralded a new era, with drink-related deaths and injuries steadily dropping. When you consider the number now stands at around 240 per year you might be shocked, but 30 years ago the figure was 990 – and in 1979 it was a massive 1,640.

Unfortunately while ‘only’ 240 people are killed on our roads each year because of alcohol, a whopping 85,000 lose their licence because they’re caught driving over the limit – and 85 per cent are men. The number of drinks you’ve had makes no difference – whether you’re just over the limit or well over the limit, in the eyes of the law you’re still a convicted drink driver and the consequences are exactly the same.

A lot of people get caught out driving the morning after they’ve had a skinful; the alcohol in your system takes time to disappear. How quickly you breach the legal limit and how fast your blood/alcohol level drops is dependent on a variety of factors including your sex, weight, metabolism and how often you drink alcohol. They key thing though is that if you’re caught out the morning after, the penalties are exactly the same.

The penalties

The penalty you receive is up to the magistrates who hear your case, and depends on your offence. You may be able to reduce your ban by taking a drink-drive rehabilitation scheme (DDRS) if you’re banned from driving for 12 months or more. It’s up to the court to offer this but there’s a variety of drink-driving offences. These are what they are and the possible penalties:

If you’re caught in charge of a vehicle while above the legal limit or unfit through drink you can be imprisoned for up to three months and fined up to £2,500. You can also be banned, although this is discretionary.

Get caught driving or attempting to drive while above the legal limit or unfit through drink and you’ll definitely lose your licence for at least a year. You also face an unlimited fine and you can be imprisoned for up to six months.

If you refuse to provide a specimen of breath, blood or urine for analysis having been stopped for drink driving, the penalties are exactly the same as if you’re caught driving over the limit. So that’s a ban for at least 12 months, an unlimited fine and half a year in jail.

If you’re daft enough to drink drive it might be a blessing if the police find you because if they don’t and you end up causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink you can be imprisoned for up to 14 years. You’ll be banned for at least two years and the fine can be unlimited. Before you can get back on the road you’ll have to take an extended driving test.

The High Risk Offenders’ Scheme

If you’re a serious menace on the roads you might be entered for the High Risk Offenders’ Scheme. If this is the case your driving licence won’t be returned automatically at the end of a driving ban; you’ll only get it back if you pass a medical examination.

You’re judged to be a high risk offender if you’re convicted of two drink-driving offences within 10 years or if you refuse to allow a sample of your blood to be tested for alcohol (such as if it was taken when you were unconscious).

You’ll also be put onto the scheme if you were especially sloshed when caught. That means you were driving with an alcohol reading of at least 87.5 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath (the limit is 35), 200 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood (compared with the 80mg legal limit), or 267.5 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine (107mg is the legal maximum).

The thing is, your drink-driving conviction is only the start of it because you’ll be on the bus or trying to cadge lifts from friends and family every time you need to go anywhere. If you need to drive for your job you’ll be joining the ranks of the unemployed and that will take its toll on your relationships and finances.

Things don’t necessarily get any better once you’ve got your licence back because getting car insurance can be a nightmare and if you drive for work your employer will see your conviction on your licence. Believe it or not, a drink-driving conviction can even make international travel tricky, especially if you want to go to countries like the USA.

In the run up to Christmas the police will be out in force trying to catch as many drink drivers as possible. Take a chance and you might get away with it – but there’s a good chance you won’t. The first drink-driving advert was screened in 1964; you can see how they’ve evolved in this brilliant compilation of the first 50 years of drink-drive ads.

We’ve come a long way since that first advert was screened, in cutting the carnage from drink driving on our roads. But we’re not there yet, and you can play your part in reducing the toll even further. So if you know you’re going to be getting behind the wheel don’t take the risk – because it’s not your just your own life that you’re taking chances with.

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