Drunk in charge of a motor vehicle - What does 'in charge' really mean and will I lose my licence?

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. What 'in charge' means is not well defined. The reality is that you could simply be sitting in your car listening to the radio but if you do that while over the legal alcohol limit, and you are in the driver's seat with the keys in the ignition, you will probably fall foul of the law. Our specialist drunk in charge solicitors have written this brief guide to help you get to grips with this often misunderstood offence.

Police officer and a police car on a highway

All drunk in charge solicitors will tell you that 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 number of these prosecutions can be successfully defended.

The Law

The penalty for this offence is 10 penalty points, up to three months imprisonment, or disqualification at the discretion of the court. Prison is highly 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. It is imperative to speak with specialist drunk in charge solicitors as soon as possible following a charge for this offence.

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 established according to the facts.


These cases often centre around whether there was an intention to drive and the 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 solicitor with a well-prepared client can stand a good chance of winning the 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.

With well-crafted mitigation, a court might not disqualify someone who pleads guilty to the offence. This can be a high-risk strategy because once the guilty plea is entered, there is no guarantee that the court will not choose to disqualify.