If you have been found to be over the limit in a traffic stop, you may be thinking you are facing a mandatory driving ban, or even prison. In reality, there are ways you can reduce your punishment, or even avoid it entirely.

With Christmas approaching - a peak time for these types of offences - drivers should know about the sentences and risks that come with operating a vehicle while over the legal alcohol limit.

A good solicitor will be able to present you with your options, but let’s go over some of the possible defences for drunk driving.

Are there mitigating factors for a drink driving charge?

Penalties for drunk driving can be very severe, with driving bans extending up to 3 years for a first time offence. Prison sentences start at 12 months, and can be as long as 14 years.

These types of punishments can be scary, and, if you have been found to be over the limit, you may be wondering what your options are to reduce or avoid this.

There are some mitigating factors set out by the Sentencing Council, including:

The lack of previous convictions
Short driving distances
The existence of a genuine emergency
The driver’s good character or genuine remorse
The driver being unwillingly intoxicated
The driver being the sole carer for dependants
Serious medical conditions

Are you unsure if any of these circumstances apply to you? Instructing an expert drink driving solicitor can make the difference between a relatively short driving ban to facing a custodial sentence, and the guidelines are likely to get stricter and stricter as the figures regarding drink driving become more alarming.

How can I defend my drink driving charge?

You may think that failing a breath test equals a drink driving charge, a fine, and a disqualification. Fortunately, that’s not always the case!

The police can decide to charge you with drunk driving after collecting enough evidence. This usually means taking a breath test and collecting witness statements. If there’s enough evidence, and a prospect of conviction, the police may charge you and require you to attend a date at the Magistrates’ Court.

You could argue a procedural error to avoid a fine or driving ban. For example, the police have to follow the MGDDA document, which includes specific questions and warnings for the suspect. If this isn’t followed to the letter, you may avoid a charge.

The machine the police used to produce your alcohol level results also has to be maintained and calibrated correctly, and approved by the Home Office. Can the police prove this beyond suspicion? If not, your case may be dropped entirely.

Can a higher fine reduce my driving ban?

A driving ban can’t be avoided by paying a larger sum. You can make your disqualification shorter by enrolling in a Drink-Drive Rehabilitation Scheme course, but your fine is decided by other factors.

Fines for drink driving are decided depending on your income - generally they’re between the amount of your weekly income and 150% of it.

You can reduce the amount you will have to pay if you plead guilty of the offence, with up to one-third of credit. However, credit won’t apply to your driving ban or custodial sentence if one has been decided.

Can I go to prison for drink driving?

It’s unlikely you will be sentenced to prison time for drink driving. Unless your circumstances include aggravating factors (such as having passengers, driving in highly trafficked areas, causing an accident or being a repeat offender), you will more likely face a driving ban, a fine, or both.

It’s a common misconception that first-time offenders are completely safe from a custodial sentence. You can face up to 6 months of imprisonment for a first time drink driving charge if you’re found to be guilty of additional aggravating factors.

Do I have to provide a specimen?

An officer can ask you to take a breath test at a traffic stop, following a collision, or in many other circumstances. They have the right to require you to take a test if they have reasonable suspicion you are, were, or were going to be driving while under the influence of alcohol.

If you refuse to take the test when asked, you might be committing a criminal offence. You will need to have a reasonable excuse to refuse.You may be facing a driving disqualification, a hefty fine, and even a custodial sentence up to 26 weeks if a court decides you had no justification to refuse the test.

Is riding a bike drunk illegal?

While the law doesn’t specify an alcohol level that indicates a cyclist is cycling under the influence, it’s still illegal to ride a bicycle while drunk. If you’re riding your bike inconsiderately or carelessly, you can be stopped by an officer and be charged with dangerous or careless cycling.

Cycling under the influence is not a driving offence, and doesn’t affect your driving licence. You will not be banned from driving nor receive points, but you can be fined up to £1,000. Additionally, if you’re found guilty of dangerous cycling, you may have to pay up to £2,500.

Can I use an E-Scooter while over the limit?

E-Scooter are becoming more and more common in cities, as a great and convenient transport alternative. It’s easy to see them on a night out and think they would make a great way to get back home, and even more responsible than driving.

Unfortunately, because E-Scooters have an electric motor, they are categorised as motorised vehicles. Using one while over the legal alcohol limit is as severe of an offence as driving a car or riding a motorcycle while drunk.

Drink driving doesn’t have to equal a ban

There are options for drivers found to be driving, or attempting to drive while over the blood alcohol limit. You should always seek legal help from professionals, as sentences can be harsh and court proceedings can be lengthy and complex.

However, being disqualified from driving - or even sentenced to custodial time - is not necessary.