Drunk in charge of a motor vehicle - what to expect

Drunk in charge of a motor vehicle means exactly that - the law says that a person who is in charge of a motor vehicle with excess alcohol is guilty of an offence.

Police officer and a police car on a highway

A conviction for drunk in charge can result in 10 points, a long ban, or in extreme cases a short prison sentence. Our experience is that a large proportion of these prosecutions can be successfully defended. We have included a case study of a recent case we have defended, and also included a guide to the offence of drunk in charge of a motor vehicle. This is not intended to replace legal advice, and if you are in any doubt, we are happy to speak to you over the phone.

Case study

Any motoring lawyer can claim to have expertise in different types of motoring case. We have included here a case study to give some idea of how we prepare our cases.

 Drunk in charge of a motor vehicle

Our client was charged with being drunk in charge of a motor vehicle. Our client was taken to the station, breathalysed, and consequently charged to appear in front of the Magistrates Court.

We were instructed by our client to defend his case on the basis that he was not guilty of the offence since he had no intention of driving the vehicle.

The circumstances were that our client was a passenger in the vehicle with his partner. The vehicle broke down. His partner moved seats and our client attempted to get the vehicle started. Whilst he was attempting to do this, two officers drove past and arrested him.

We were then instructed and we prepared a defence for our client on the basis that he had no intention to drive his motor vehicle. The only reason for him being in the driver seat was for the purpose of getting the vehicle started to allow for his partner to continue driving.

We interviewed his partner and prepared a strong case, and instructed specialist counsel to represent our client at trial. Our barrister cross-examined the police officers and showed that they had no idea of whether he was going to drive or not.  Result: Not Guilty Defence costs reimbursed

The Law in drunk in charge of a motor vehicle cases

The penalty for this offence is 10 penalty points, up to three months imprisonment or a disqualification at the discretion of the court. Prison is unlikely in most cases, except where there the offence involves other bad behaviour or a very high alcohol reading (readings over 100 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres breath will often make magistrates start to think about custody).


Any person who is accused of being in charge of a motor vehicle while unfit through drink or drugs will have a defence to the charge if he can show that at the time of the offence there was no likelihood of his driving the motor vehicle.

The court will look at various factors to decide whether this was the case or not, including whether the keys were in the ignition, whether the car was running etc. These do not conclusively prove that the person was in charge of the vehicle for the purposes of the law, because the intention to drive must be proven according to the facts.

Strategy in drunk in charge of a motor vehicle cases

These cases often centre around whether there was an intention to drive, and a defence will often centre  around this issue. Thorough preparation with the client must be done, both on the prosecution papers and the client's version of events. Any police witnesses from the scene will need to be called to court and cross-examined by the defence. Often people will be charged simply because the engine is running. A good drunk in charge solicitors with a well prepared client can have a good chance of overcoming the charge in this case.

The usual Special Reasons arguments applicable in other drink driving cases could also apply, depending on the facts.

In drunk in charge of a motor vehicle cases there is no minimum mandatory ban of 12 months as there is for other driving offences, and the court has the option of awarding 10 penalty points instead of a ban. This is difficult to obtain as opposed to a ban, but is possible.

With excellent and skilfully presented mitigation, a court might not disqualify someone who pleads guilty to the offence. This can be a high risk strategy where an alternative is a not guilty plea, because once the guilty plea is entered, there is no guarantee that the court will not disqualify.

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