Drivers can still face big fines and be banned from the wheel for drinking – even if they pass breathalyser tests – thanks to a little-known rule.
That’s because while most convictions for drink driving use the “DR40” code, there’s a second one too.
The “DR50” conviction carries a maximum penalty of three months in jail, as well as a driving ban and a fine of up to £2,500 – and doesn’t rely on tests.
How do they decide if not using a test? Well it’s down to the opinion of the arresting officer whether you’re fit, or unfit to drive.
And it’s not just alcohol – there’s one for drug driving too that can see you hit even if you pass tests.
A DR90 conviction – standing for “in charge of a vehicle when unfit through drugs” – carries 10 penalty points and a fine of up to £2,500 with it.
Emma Patterson, motoring lawyer at Patterson Law , said: “You have a number of potential offences where you can be charged and convicted without being above the ‘legal limit’.
The sentiment was that the police really disliked having to prove beyond reasonable doubt that somebody was ‘unfit’ to drive through drink or drugs because they had to prove that the standard of driving was reduced or impaired by alcohol or drugs.
“When legal limits were introduced it was far more black and white.
“However, the police now tend to use the ‘unfit’ charge when they are in difficulties, perhaps, for example, when the breathalyser machine does not work properly, or if somebody fails to give a specimen for analysis.
And by reverting to the old charge of being ‘unfit’, the prosecutor at court can simply refer to their demeanor when arrested and the standard of driving.
“It tends to be used as a sort of legal backstop.”
In some ways it makes sense – as alcohol limits don’t take into account things like the driver’s tolerance or if they’re on antibiotics, for example.
And that means the safest way to stay clear of conviction is to not touch a drop before driving.
“It can be tempting, particularly in the height of summer, to enjoy a drink in a nice pub beer garden before heading home,” said Mark Tongue, from Select Car Leasing , who are advising UK motorists to adopt a zero tolerance booze policy this summer.
But if that drink makes you impaired in any way, even though you may not be above the legal limit, you could still face heavy consequences.”
“A DR50 charge means 10 points on your licence and a hefty fine. Our advice would be to swerve the drinks entirely if you know you’re going to be behind the wheel.”
And remember being “in charge of a vehicle” doesn’t always mean driving it – if you’re inside the car and in possession of the keys, you can still be prosecuted.