Police Stop: The Does and Dont’s of UK Drink Driving Law

We have all suffered that sudden intake of breath as flashing blue lights appear in our rear view mirror. Imagine however, if you had just left the pub having had a drink. Thoughts turn to concern about just what may happen and what it may mean. Here we look at what the police can and cannot do in terms of stopping you, and moreover asking for a specimen to be given at the roadside. This isn’t a guide in how to avoid being breathalysed, but it is very important that as drivers we know and understand what our individual rights are and what the police can and cannot ask for. A little knowledge may be classed as a dangerous thing, but ignorance is far from bliss. Learning what you are entitled and moreover not entitled to do is an important lesson for all of us. So once the blue lights are flashing, what should we do?


Let’s get the basics right first. The police are entitled to stop any vehicle for any reason and if they request that you stop, then you should definitely pull over at the first conveniently safe place to do so. But just because you have to pull over doesn’t mean that you have no rights. Far from it.

If stopped, the police can ask for the usual documents, insurance, driving licence and certificate of insurance. If you do not carry these, they may give you a producer, and seven days to take them to the station.

The police can give you an on the spot penalty notice for various traffic offences and in certain circumstances they can request that you provide a roadside breath test. But just what are these circumstances?

Should I Be Breathalysed?

Remember that, under UK drink driving law, there is no automatic right to request a breath test. You can only be requested to take the breathalyser in certain circumstances and not as a matter of course. These circumstances are as follows:

  • They think that you have been drinking
  • You have committed a traffic offence
  • You have been involved in a road traffic accident.

Let’s look at these in a little more detail. What makes the police suspect that an individual has been drinking? Certainly the smell of alcohol in the car can tip an officer off, they may have witnessed you exit a pub before getting into your car, or they may have been tipped off that you have been drinking. Erratic driving may also indicate that there is a problem.

If you have committed a separate offence, such as speeding, then they are entitled to breathalyse you and the same goes for offences such as running a red light, or driving without due care and attention.

The third is perhaps the most strange. If you are involved in a road traffic accident then you are going to be breathalysed. This is true even if you are not at fault for the accident. Think, you are sat at a red light and somebody drives into the rear of your car. The police are entitled to breathalyse you, even though there is no fault. Also remember that many drink driving charges are based on offences committed the day after the night before. So a few drinks late into the night and an early start to work, may mean that you are over the limit, and even where an accident is not your fault you will probably be breathalysed. Of course if you are over the limit then there will be no sympathy, but it is only by chance that you have been tested.


Any drink driving solicitor will tell you that there is a separate offence of failing to give a sample when requested. Only medical ground would probably be a good enough reason to not take the roadside test and even then you are getting into complicated waters.

Once Tested

If you pass, likelihood is that you will be allowed to continue on, unless of course there is another offence involved. A failure however will mean that you will be arrested and taken to the police station. At the station, a further more detailed test will be taken and will form the basis of any prosecution or drink driving charge. It is possible, though rare, that you can fail a roadside test and thereafter pass a station test. Perhaps if you are on the cusp, but even so, this is not a tightrope that you want to take. Also remember that if you are arrested you will not be able to drive your car yourself until you are sober.

Basically therefore, the rules are simple. The police can stop you at any time for any reason whatsoever. There does however need to be a certain basis before they can insist on you undertaking a breath test though. They have no absolute right to insist upon one, and if you are concerned then you should definitely speak to a drink driving Solicitor.

These rules are not there to safeguard people who drink and drive, in the end they will be caught out. They are there to ensure that there is certainty within UK drink driving law, and that procedures will have to be undertaken properly if there is to be any prosecution. Knowing your rights will not make you immune to any drink driving charges that may be brought against you, but at least when you see the blue lights flashing, once you have drawn breath, you will be able to relax that little bit more.

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