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Being in charge of a vehicle at Christmas

How many times have you heard that people have returned to their cars to sleep off alcohol or as a place of safety as a last resort following a night out drinking? Most people imagine that as long as they don’t drive the vehicle, the decision is a sound one, but that’s not so.

We see far more people being charged with being drunk in charge of a vehicle around the festive season than at any other time of year. Taxis are scarce, family and friends are drinking themselves so are unavailable for pick ups, Christmas parties go on longer than anticipated, and people miss the last bus or train. All manner of situations lead people to make the unfortunate decision to sleep in their vehicles overnight following a boozy Christmas night out. The vast majority of those people would never consider driving whilst drunk, hence choosing to sleep in their vehicle, and are devastated to discover the ramifications of their decision.

The majority of people who find themselves sleeping in their vehicles do not intentionally do so. They do not carry blankets and pillows in their vehicles, expecting to spend the night in a deserted car park or on the side of the road. Most often, the decision to sleep in a vehicle will be an impulsive one, based upon the circumstances that people find themselves in, when, for example, they become separated from their group of friends or colleagues, and find themselves with little option at the time. Sleeping in the safe confines of their car is largely seen as the lesser of two evils; an alternative to walking miles home or putting themselves in danger, loitering unaccompanied in the dark.

Being drunk, or unfit, whilst in charge of a vehicle is an offence, whether the key is in the ignition or not, whether the heater is on only to warm the car in freezing conditions, despite having no intention to drive the vehicle from where it is parked until many hours later. Many people’s lives have been turned upside down for doing just this.

The magistrates court sentencing guidelines for being drunk in charge of a vehicle ranges from 10 penalty points and a fine, to a 12-month disqualification and an immediate custodial sentence. There are numerous options in between, including all manner of community orders, and any sentence of immediate imprisonment will further extend the driving ban imposed. Those in charge of goods vehicles, PSVs or taxis would be most likely to attract the maximum penalties.

Mitigating factors likely to persuade the courts toward the lowest levels of sentencing include the remorse shown by the individual for committing the offence and their previous good character, however a conviction and punishment will naturally follow should the person either choose to, or believe that they must, plead guilty. The consequences of pleading guilty to being drunk, or unfit, whilst in charge of a vehicle, can often lead to loss of employment, which in turn affects their livelihood. A criminal conviction can also prove detrimental to future job prospects and impede international travel.

If, however, there was no likelihood of the person driving whilst in excess of the prescribed limit and the court can be persuaded beyond reasonable doubt that there was no likelihood of them having driven whilst unfit or in excess of the legal limit, the statutory defence should succeed and they should be acquitted of the charge. This defence in law is most often supported by presenting expert opinion to support the fact that, at the time the individual would next drive their vehicle, their blood/alcohol levels would be under the prescribed limit, or that there was no likelihood of a person driving whilst unfit.

Wishing you a safe and happy festive season from the team at Motoring Defence Solicitors.

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