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Drink driving legislation

We tend to think of penalties for drink driving as having started in the 1960s, but in fact they go back much further. In 2009 a disabled man was fined for driving his mobility scooter whilst under the influence of alcohol; because the scooter fell outside the legal definition of a motor vehicle, the charge was brought under the Licensing Act of 1872, a law which was passed to prohibit driving cattle, carts and steam engines whilst drunk. However, this (and later legislation to include bicycles and motor cars) required the prosecution to prove that a driver's ability to control the vehicle had been impaired by alcohol, which was difficult to do unless an accident had occurred. The real 1960s innovation was the setting of prescribed limits to blood alcohol.

The Breathalyser

Barbara Castle's much-criticised Road Safety Act in 1967 introduced the breathalyser, and set a limit of 35 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath, and 80 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood, or 107 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of urine. Since then, the limits have remained the same, in spite of much discussion about whether they shouldb be lower, as they are in many other countries. Meanwhile, public condemnation of those who drink and drive has become almost universal.

Current penalties for drink-driving

The law differentiates between 'driving' and 'being in charge of' a vehicle. For being in charge of a vehicle while above the prescribed limit, or unfit through drink, the maximum penalties are;
•3 months’ imprisonment
• £2,500 fine
•a driving ban

For driving or attempting to drive while above the limit, the maximum penalties are higher;
•6 months’ imprisonment
•£5,000 fine
•a driving ban, minimum 1 year

Drivers who do not cooperate with the police when stopped do not improve their position. In addition to penalties for failing to give a breath sample, if they also fail to provide a specimen of blood or urine the maximum penalties for driving are;
•6 months' imprisonment
•£5,000 fine
•Disqualification 1 year minimum, up to a maximum of 3 yrs

And for being in charge they are;
•3 months' imprisonment
•£2,500 fine
•Discretionary disqualification

All of the above sentences will also include penalty points, so that when the driver does eventually get their licence back, it is likely to be heavily endorsed.

If there is an accident

For drivers involved in an accident whilst above the legal limit, the penalties can be severe. Causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs carries a minimum one year, maximum fourteen year prison term; and drink will be seen as an aggravating factor in any other type of motoring offence.

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