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

12 March 2022
Alcohol & Drugs

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, a very high alcohol reading, or a previous drink drive conviction (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 under the influence of drink or drugs will have a defence to the charge if he or she can show that at the time of the offence there was no likelihood of 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. This could include if drinks were spiked, or in the case of a genuine emergency.

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.

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