Failing to provide a specimen for analysis - what to expect

Failing to provide a specimen for analysis is an offence when  person either refuses or is unable to provide a breath, blood or urine sample when requested to at the police station, unless they have a reasonable excuse for not providing.

police car's roof with a beacon and antennas

The ban imposed for this offence is the same as the 12 months minimum for drink driving, but magistrates will normally look to give a ban of 18 24 months unless good mitigation is shown. This type of offence in extreme circumstances can carry a community or custodial (prison) penalty. Having all of these possibilities hanging over you can be immensely stressful.

Our motoring solicitors are specialists in failure to provide cases, and we are here to help with solid, practical advice. We can often help provide a path out of this situation without a ban being necessary.

Our motoring solicitors' 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.

Roadside breath test failure

Our client was stopped by police and failed a roadside breath test. He had a back problem that required him to take powerful painkilling medication, and his back began to hurt after he was stopped. He took 2 painkillers and these subsequently reacted with the alcohol and he became disoriented and dizzy. He was unable to blow into the breathalyser at the police station and he was charged with failing to provide a specimen for analysis.

We commissioned medical reports on his behalf supporting the existence of his medical condition and also of the likely effect on an individual of mixing alcohol and that type of painkiller. It was shown that, while there was no adequate warning on the painkillers' packaging, mixing them with alcohol could lead to severe disorientation.

The court considered this a reasonable excuse for not providing a breath sample. Verdict: Not Guilty

The Law

The framework for this area of law is contained in the Road Traffic Act 1988, but the most contentious area of law which is relevant for cases involving a failure to provide a sample are contained in dozens of previously decided cases from the Court of Appeal and other higher courts.

This is the law that relates to what amounts to a €œreasonable excuse€ as considered in the Road Traffic Act. A reasonable excuse can often be a medical condition, but may include the mental state suffered by an arrested person after inappropriate behaviour by police officers. It could even include a psychological condition, such as an aversion to hypodermic needles, although this has to be more than just not liking needles.

It is necessary to prove the existence of a reasonable excuse, by either producing expert evidence, or bringing alternative evidence of what happened at the police station.

The necessity of being warned of prosecution

In a case of failing to provide a specimen for analysis, an officer must have stated to the detained person that failure to provide a sample could result in a prosecution for a criminal offence. Failure to give this warning could mean that the prosecution can be challenged.

Must a person have been driving to be required to give a breath sample?

In cases of failing to provide a specimen for analysis, a police officer must only  suspect that a person has been driving the vehicle whilst over the limit in order to request a specimen. So if someone is later proven to not have been driving or drinking, then if they have provided a sample, they will not be guilty of the failure offence.

However, if they have refused to give a sample, even if they never drove or drank, they could be guilty of the failure offence. A person in this situation may however still keep his or her licence if the right legal argument is made at court.

Does a person have a right to have a Lawyer before the procedure?

Although there is a right to speak to a solicitor on the phone while in custody, the law says that this does not take precedence over the necessity for the breath test to take place in time to give a reading before the blood alcohol level drops in the arrested person.

The higher courts have been dismissive of most but not all attempts to show that an individual denied of legal advice before the breath test procedure is entitled to an acquittal. It is usually only in more extreme cases, where bad faith on the part of the officers can be shown, or where there are other severe lapses in officers' conduct, that the absence of a lawyer before the procedure might become significant.


The sentencing guidelines for failing to provide a specimen for analysis are similar to those for Driving with Excess Alcohol. This offence has been upgraded in seriousness by the new Sentencing Guidelines that Magistrates are required to follow, and community orders and prison sentences are possible in more cases than before. Bans of upwards of 2 years are now commonplace.

If you have been accused of this offence, we recommend getting in touch to discuss your options. A prison sentence has to be considered by the magistrates for a second offence within ten years, although not necessarily imposed. The first offence does not need to be for Failure to Provide. It could be another drink related driving offence.


In failing to provide a specimen for analysis cases can Special Reasons be avoid a ban?

In circumstances where drinks have been spiked / laced, Special Reasons arguments might be applicable, which could avoid a ban, but only where it is the alcohol itself which has prevented the individual from giving the sample. There are certain other situations where special reasons may be available.

Further note

With offences involving failure to provide a breath specimen or other sample, the law relating to whether a failure is justifiable can be difficult. If you are in any doubt as to whether you are guilty of the above or any other offence, we recommend obtaining legal advice.