Legislation relating to drinking and driving has been in place for many years – the necessity of legislating against drinking alcohol and driving has achieved wide acceptance in the community.
However, many drivers still remain ignorant of the precise powers which the police have to request specimens of breath. Others mistakenly believe that if they have not been driving (or have consumed alcohol after driving) they do not have to provide specimens of breath or that, if they do, it is better to refuse because any such specimens would not be accurate.
This is to misunderstand the law.
A police officer has the right to request a driver of a motor vehicle to provide him with a specimen of breath, if he suspects that person has consumed alcohol. A small roadside screening device is used; if the driver’s breath specimen contains alcohol above the permitted level, the driver will be arrested and taken to a police station, where more accurate specimens (to be used in court proceedings) may be taken from him.
If a driver refuses to provide a roadside specimen, the police officer concerned is entitled in any event to arrest and take him to a police station. The specimens provided at the police station are those which are crucial and which are used in any subsequent court proceedings.
Samples provided at any Essex police station are taken by a machine – an Intoximeter – which is programmed to give an accurate reading of the suspect’s level of alcohol.
If the suspect has been arrested lawfully then, upon request by a police officer to provide two specimens on the Intoximeter, he or she must comply – failure to do so amounts, unless there is reasonable excuse, to an offence of failing to provide.
There may be a reasonable failure to provide where, for instance, the suspect suffers from shortness of breath, caused by severe asthma. In those circumstances the police may invite the suspect to provide blood or urine samples. Here it is the police officer’s decision, rather than that of the person concerned.
Individuals who have not been driving at all, or who may have consumed alcohol after driving but before their arrest, may (wrongly) feel that it is better not to provide specimens. It is, always better, immediately to provide specimens at the police station and later to challenge any allegation of driving with excess alcohol (by use of evidence), than to fail to provide a specimen – the only defence open to somebody who fails to provide specimens is that he was reasonably unable to do so.
Refusal by a person who simply thought that the provision of specimens was ‘unnecessary’ or ‘wrong’ will not be considered by the courts to be a ‘reasonable’ excuse; conviction of failing to provide specimens of breath for analysis will inevitably follow.
The court’s approach to such an offence may be to treat it even more seriously than driving with excess alcohol.