Drunk in charge of a motor vehicle

Drunk in charge of a motor vehicle

Being ‘in charge’ of a motor vehicle when alcohol in the body exceeds the prescribed limit is an offence that can lead to a prison sentence. Whether or not the driver is over the limit will be determined in the same way as if the driver had been under suspicion for driving whilst over the limit. The measurement is taken most commonly from the driver’s breath, but it can be taken from blood or urine, depending on the circumstances.

What in law amounts to being ‘in charge’ of a motor vehicle can be difficult to determine and can occur in a number of different ways – a driver does not necessarily have to be physically inside a car or even be in possession of the keys to be ‘in charge’ of it.

As with all alcohol related offences, the procedure in the police station can be a crucial factor in any case. Any failure to follow the correct procedure can be fatal to the prosecution.

It is important to note that in proceedings of this type, the prosecution does not need to prove that the defendant was likely to drive the vehicle. The most common example of being in charge of a motor vehicle is where a police officer comes across a stationary vehicle and the driver sitting in the driver’s seat someone who is suspected of having driven the vehicle to that particular point, and who is suspected of being over the prescribed limits.

However, in many cases, just because someone is sitting in the driver’s seat of a car, whether alone in the vehicle or with others, does not necessarily prove guilt. It is open to a driver in the circumstances to rely on the statutory defence. The burden of proving the defence remains on the defendants. If a defendant can establish that there was no likelihood of him or her driving the vehicle concerned whilst the proportion of alcohol in their body exceeded the prescribed limits, then the court should find the driver not guilty of being in charge of the vehicle. Scientific evidence is often relied upon in cases of this type to demonstrate to the court the time at which it would have been safe to drive and driver under the prescribed limit.

Key considerations when deciding whether you were ‘in charge’ of the vehicle are:

– You being in the car and where you were seated in the vehicle

–  Where the keys were

– What you were doing

–  Whether there was any intention of you driving the car


The penalties include:

– A fine of up to £2,500

– A community order

– Up to 3 months in prison.

The Magistrates will either disqualify or impose 10 penalty points on your licence. The higher the alcohol reading, the more likely disqualification becomes. If the court decides to impose 10 penalty points, this can often lead to a disqualification under the totting up provisions.

If you are considering defending the allegation, you will need to satisfy the court that you had no intention of taking control of the vehicle.