Drunk in Charge of a Motor Vehicle

Is it ever a good idea to sleep in your car having had too much to drink?

Most people are fully aware that it is a criminal offence to drive a vehicle after having consumed so much alcohol that they exceed the prescribed limit, but it is also an offence to be in charge of a vehicle whilst drunk or unfit through drugs.

Motorists who are sleeping, or sitting in their vehicle have found themselves facing serious charges despite the fact that they have not actually driven or attempted to drive a vehicle. Although a Drunk in Charge allegation is not as serious as Drink Driving, if found guilty you will not only be in receipt of a criminal record but it will also cause serious implications on your ability to drive as the court could impose:

  • a mandatory 10 penalty points or a discretionary driving disqualification
  • A fine of up to £2500 and / or a range of sentencing options including community service or a prison sentence of up to 3 months

How is the offence defined?

In order to be charged with an offence of “drunk in charge of a vehicle ” under the Road Traffic Act 1988 (Sections 5), the defendant must be:

  • over the legal limit for alcohol (in the blood, urine or breath)
  • and in charge of the vehicle;
  • and the motor vehicle must be in a place to which the public has access.

How is “in charge” defined?

There is no definition of “in charge” and the courts have been keen to avoid an all-embracing test.

In determining if a person is in charge the court will consider:

  • Whether he was in the vehicle, if so where, or how far he was from it;
  • What he was doing at the time;
  • Whether he was in possession of the key for the ignition;
  • Whether there was any evidence of an intention to take some form of control of the vehicle;
  • Whether any person was in or near the vehicle and if so the particulars of that person.

You could also be prosecuted if you are found in the passenger seat or the back seats. You do not have to be sitting in the driver’s seat to be considered “in charge”.

However those that own or lawfully are in possession of the vehicle or have recently driven it are deemed to remain in charge unless it can be shown:

  • that they had put the vehicle into someone else’s charge
  • or can establish that they had ceased to be in control AND there was no realistic prospect of resuming control whilst unfit.

Are there defences available?

The law states that someone cannot be convicted of an “in charge” offence if they can prove there was no intention and / or likelihood of the vehicle being driven whilst the driver was over the prescribed limit.

Unlike many other offences, with the offence of being drunk in charge, the accused must prove that they did not have any intention to drive the vehicle. The prosecution is not required to prove that the accused was likely to drive whilst unfit or over the limit.

A defence is available if it can be shown that there was no likelihood of driving whilst over the prescribed limit and doing this should be established by expert scientific evidence or compelling circumstantial evidence. These defences are known as “statutory defences”.

Section 5 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 states:

“The defendant must prove that it was more likely than not that he had no intention of driving whilst the level of alcohol in his breath, blood or urine remained above the prescribed limit in which case, he is not considered to be in charge”.

How we can help you defend an allegation of “drunk in charge of a vehicle”

As specialist road traffic offences and drink driving solicitors we have the skills and expertise to advise you on all aspects of your ‘drunk in charge of a vehicle’ case. We will provide you with a clear and open appraisal of your case and advise you of any defence that may be available. In cases where a defence is not immediately apparent or available, we may advise that further investigations need to be arranged in order to determine the possibility of a defence. It is important that we review all the evidence presented so that we can advise you of the best possible options available to you. Contact our driving offences experts today to discuss the circumstances of your case.  Call our road and driving offences solicitors today on 0330 999 4999 for immediate help.  Alternatively, email us at roadtraffic@ibblaw.co.uk.


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