If you’re facing a drink driving penalty as a first offence, it’s important to understand the legal process ahead and the penalties if you’re found guilty.
Drink driving offences and penalties
Drink driving is a serious offence leading to a driving ban, fine, possible prison time and a criminal record.
Drink driving penalties are determined by the court that hears your case and the type of offence you’re being charged with, as this table shows:
Drink driving penalties
|Being in charge of a vehicle while above the legal limit or unfit through drink||
|Driving or attempting to drive while above the legal limit or unfit through drink||
|Refusing to provide a specimen of breath, blood or urine for analysis||
|Causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink||
In more serious cases, the court may impose community service whereby the offender carries out unpaid work under close supervision on projects that benefit the community, such as working in a charity shop or picking up litter in a local park. This can be for between 40 and 300 hours.
The courts also have discretion to allow the offender to attend a rehabilitation course if the offence has carried a driving ban of 12 months or more. Since January 2000, the Drink Drive Rehabilitation scheme has been in place as a way for an offender to possibly reduce the length of their driving ban. The course must be paid for by the offender.
Drink driving first offence penalties
First-time offenders for drink driving face a driving ban and fine. You could also be sent to prison for up to six months, depending on the severity of the offence and any aggravating factors such as endangering others, or be given community service.
Further consequences of a drink driving conviction
Beyond the above penalties for being convicted of drink driving and the resulting criminal record, there are a number of other consequences that could affect you in the future.
Loss of licence
If you are disqualified from driving, the courts may require you to re-take and pass your driving test.
The courts may also require you to pass a DVLA drink driving medical before your licence can be returned to you at the end of your driving ban. This would entail completing a questionnaire about your medical history, taking part in a physical examination and a blood test. You would be required to pay for this yourself.
Damage to career
If you’re required to drive as part of your job, a driving ban would make that impossible.
Many employment contracts state that criminal conviction could result in dismissal so being convicted of drink driving could lead to the termination of your employment on that basis.
Many professions, such as doctors, lawyers and accountants, are regulated by professional bodies who insist that their members do not have a criminal conviction. A drink driving conviction would result in any of these professionals losing their registration and their job.
When searching for a new job, it will be necessary to reveal your criminal conviction to any prospective employer which could make finding employment difficult.
Drink driving offences can have a serious and negative impact on your personal life. It can affect your relationships, your freedom and independence and could have a detrimental impact on your mental health.
It’s also likely that your personal reputation will be affected. News of your drink driving conviction is likely to get out, whether through social media or local press if you were involved in, or even caused an accident through your drink driving.
More expensive car insurance
Your insurance premium will increase as a result of a drink driving conviction. You may also find that your insurance options are limited as many car insurers will not insure drivers who have a drink-drive conviction.
Restrictions on foreign travel
With a drink driving conviction, you may find it difficult to travel to certain countries. For instance, the USA, Australia and Canada may refuse entry to anyone with a drink driving conviction.
This could affect where you holiday, but more seriously restrict your career prospects if you wish to work abroad or reduce the opportunity to study in a foreign country.
What to do if you’re facing a drink driving charge
If you’ve been charged with drink driving, you’ll have to attend court for your case to be heard.
Obtaining legal advice is always recommended. A solicitor can guide you through the process, communicate on your behalf and represent you in court. You should also consider how you will pay for your legal advice.
What happens at court?
On the day that your case will be heard in court, you should arrive in good time and report to the courts reception or the court usher to confirm your arrival. You will then be directed to a waiting area until your case is heard. When your name is called by the usher, you will be escorted into the courtroom.
You’ll be asked to stand before the magistrates, confirm your name and address, and enter your plea, guilty or not guilty.
If you answer ‘not guilty’, the court case will come to an end for that day (be adjourned) and be heard again at a later date.
If you answer ‘guilty’, then the prosecution will begin immediately.
How will the magistrates make their decision?
Drink driving penalties are used to deter the offender from re-offending, encourage the offender to make amends, protect the general public and reduce crime by preventing re-offending.
When deciding penalties, magistrates will consider all evidence presented by the prosecution solicitor (acting against you) and the defence solicitor (acting on your behalf). They will also take into account details such as:
- the alcohol level reading
- how much harm the drink driving caused or could have caused
- whether the drink driving resulted in an accident
- whether the vehicle was carrying passengers
- poor weather conditions
A drink driving conviction will usually result in a driving ban, initially twelve months for a first offence.
The official sentencing guidelines for motoring offences give the courts powers to impose community orders and lesser fines for offenders with low level alcohol readings. These guidelines also encourage the courts to consider disqualification as the starting point for offenders with higher readings of alcohol. For the most serious offences where the offender is immediately imprisoned, disqualification from driving is extended past the prison sentence.
Drink driving first offence penalties FAQs
Can you go to jail for first time drink driving?
Yes, first-time offenders for drink driving could be sent to prison for up to six months, depending on the severity of the offence and any aggravating factors such as endangering others.
What is the minimum sentence for drink driving in the UK?
Even the least-serious drink driving offence carries penalties including an unlimited fine and a driving ban of up to 12 months for a first offence.
Do all drink driving cases go to court?
Yes, any charge relating to drink driving requires you to attend court in person. Failing to attend court can result in a warrante for your arrest and further charges against you.
Is drink driving an immediate ban?
Yes, drink driving offences carry a mandatory driving disqualification. The length of ban will depend on the severity of the offence.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute tax, financial or legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the rules and should not be treated as such.
Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission.
Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert tax, financial, legal or other advice should be sought.