The current limit is:

  • 22 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath
  • 50 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood
  • 67 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of urine

(NB The Scottish limit for alcohol in blood was lowered in December 2014, from 80mg to 50mg per 100ml of blood.)

Under section 4(2) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 it is an offence for a person to be in charge of a motor vehicle on a road or other public place with excess alcohol in his or her breath or in blood or urine as evidenced by a certificate of analysis or verbal evidence.

The offence is punishable by a prison sentence of up to three months, a fine of up to £2500, and a minimum of ten penalty points.

However, it is open to the court to disqualify an accused person for an offence such as this and more often than not disqualification is what follows.

Whether an individual can lawfully be said to be ‘in charge’ of a motor vehicle will depend upon the facts and circumstances of a particular case.

Matters are most complicated where an accused person is found within his or her vehicle.

An individual who has retreated to the safety or warmth of their car for totally innocent reasons whilst under the influence of alcohol can properly said to be ‘in charge’ of that vehicle for the purposes of section 4(2)and is liable to arrest and thereafter prosecution.

Equally, a qualified driver who attempts to supervise a learner driver whilst under the influence of alcohol can properly be said to be ‘in charge’ of the motor vehicle.

Nonetheless in terms of section 4(3) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 a person shall be deemed not to have been in charge of a vehicle if he or she proves that at the material time the circumstances were such that there was no likelihood of his or her driving it so long as he or she remained unfit to drive.

Establishing this defence can often entail the leading of evidence from expert toxicologists as to when precisely a driver would have regained fitness to drive.

This is by no means an easy test to satisfy and it is essential for any person charged with being drunk in charge to seek expert advice at an early stage.

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