As an alternative to drink driving, police may charge you with driving whilst “unfit” which carries similar penalties. The main difference between the offences is what the Prosecution must prove to secure a conviction. Charges may also be brought if somebody is merely in charge of a vehicle whilst unfit whether they were actually driving or not. (see: “in charge” offences)
Whilst a person can be unfit through drink (i.e. has consumed enough alcohol to affect their driving but not actually place them above the legal limit), charges of being unfit through drugs are becoming more and more common, largely due to government crack downs on what is now commonly called drug driving in recent years.
NOTE: In this context the term “Drug” is not limited to illegal drug and substances. Charges can also be brought if somebody is considered to be unfit due to over the counter and/or prescribed medication.
The advice below refers to being unfit through drugs but the vast majority of it will also apply to charges of being unfit through drink.
The Charge Itself
Section 4 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 states that an offence has been committed when a person drives (or attempts to drive) on a road whilst unfit through drink or drugs. The CPS must not only prove the presence of a drug but also that the driver was impaired at the time.
An officer can make an arrest if they have reason to believe that a person’s driving is impaired through drugs. You may have seen the TV drug driving campaign (“Your eyes will give you away!”) which highlights just one of the grounds upon which a police officer may stop you, but an officer may simply make a judgement about your standard of driving and whether it justifies a stop.
At the roadside the officer should carry out a number of impairment tests which are:
- The One Leg Stand test
- The Walk and Turn Test
- The Pupil Measurement test
- The Balance and Judgement test (known as The Romberg test); and
- The Finger to Nose Test
This may seem somewhat of an archaic method to test for impairment but there are plans to introduce a road side “drugalyser” that would act in the same way as the breathalysers currently used to detect for alcohol.
If the officer considers you to have failed these tests then you will be arrested and taken into custody. These tests are not usually enough to prove impairment however and a sample of either blood or urine will be requested from you at the police station.
If you refuse (or fail) to provide this specimen then you will be charged with “Failing to Provide a Specimen”. Any sample will then be sent away for analysis in an effort to prove the presence of drug(s) in your system.
The police are required to provide you with your own sample and if you were, we strongly urge you to submit this for independent analysis. A list of laboratories capable of such analysis can be found at the Royal Society of Chemistry website.
Please contact us if you are unsure where to send your sample to and one of our team can recommend an accredited laboratory.
What Do I Do?
If you are unsure of the best way to proceed then please contact one of our team to discuss your options. The vast majority of people who contact us are unaware (and initially sceptical) of any potential defence that may be available to them until they have sought our expert advice. It is often difficult to confirm at the outset whether or not you can defend your case until we have had opportunity to review the evidence against you. It is with this in mind that we can offer you an investigation into the charges against you for a fixed fee.
We can review the evidence that the CPS has against you and provide you with our full advice on the prospects of success in your individual case. No two cases of drink driving are ever exactly the same and it is important that we consider the specifics of your case before advising you of the chances of success.
Once you have received our advice, you can make an informed decision on whether or not to defend the allegation or accept the penalty, and one of our team will be on hand to discuss any concerns you may have about your case. The initial investigation is what has led to the majority of our clients successfully defending their case.
Defending the Charge
If you know that you wish to defend the charges against you then please contact us as soon as possible (even if you have not been formally charged). The team at Olliers adopt a “no stone unturned” approach to defending cases and we will want to get started as soon as possible. A pre-emptive approach can often help secure key evidence, e.g. CCTV evidence, that may be otherwise destroyed if there is a delay between being charged and actually appearing in court.
We have found that most of our clients are happy to know that, if they choose to defend the charges, they can continue driving for as long as proceedings are ongoing.
We must stress again however that this is a very specialist niche area of law and a general criminal lawyer (and not an expert) may give you very different advice to our expert advice, simply due to the fact that this is not their main area of practice. The lawyers in our motoring department are specialists dedicated to motoring law and therefore are fully conversant with its complexities. You should keep this in mind if you have spoken to other, more general firms.
The penalties for drug driving (driving whilst unfit) are similar to those of drink driving and it is important to be aware of this before deciding what to do. The penalty is largely dependent upon your level of impairment but other circumstances will also be taken into account such as:
- First Offence
The minimum penalty for a first offender is 12 months disqualification from driving and a fine of up to £5000.
- Second Offence within a 10 Year Period
The minimum penalty instantly increases to a 3 year disqualification solely on the basis that it is a second offence within 10 years.
- Second Offence within a 3 Year Period and/or an Extreme Impairment
The Court will consider imposing a prison sentence of up to 6 months, in addition to a disqualification and fine
Impact of a Conviction
Most people already know about the mandatory disqualification from driving, but there are some long term consequences that many people do not consider such as:
- Your ability to work
- A significant increase of your insurance premiums (often by thousands!) for 5 years
- Restrictions on travel
- Social stigma
- A criminal conviction which will remain on your record indefinitely and your licence for 11 years
We understand that almost everybody will want to secure the minimum penalty in light of the above and offer a fixed fee service to help you achieve this.
This level of representation includes the meticulous preparation of your case, one of our specialist lawyers on hand for advice over the telephone any time between 8am and 10pm and a specialist court advocate who will accompany you to court and conduct the hearing for you.
If you are facing an allegation of drug driving or driving whilst unfit, contact Ruth Peters on 0808 168 0017.