It’s day one of a drink-drive rehabilitation course and everyone attending has a different experience to share with the group.
The police breathalysed Ken after he crashed his car when driving home from a drinking session at his local. He took the risk because there were no taxis available – and his reading was more than three times the legal drink-drive limit.
Katy, sitting next to him, had planned to leave her car parked in town overnight when one drink led to another. She didn’t realise that getting into the vehicle to collect her coat for the walk home meant she was actually breaking the law.
One-by-one, each person reveals their story. Many simply underestimated the strength of the alcohol in their drinks. Others were breathalysed the morning after impromptu nights out and were still over the limit.
While each individual has their own story to share, all the participants are there because of their drink-drive convictions. Magistrates offered them the opportunity to complete the course as part of their sentencing for breaking the law.
But what topics are covered, and how are drivers likely to benefit from attending?
It helps to meet others in a similar situation
For many, entering a room packed with strangers is daunting. Adding to that underlying tension is the fact that everyone is there because they’ve been in trouble with the law.
But Andrew Buckley, who runs the Reform drink-drive rehabilitation course, says that getting to know others who have also lost their driving licence in similar circumstances can help break the ice.
“I think the majority of our participants are relieved to meet others who are going through a similar experience,” he says.
“They all have their drink-drive conviction in common, and are often still coming to terms with what’s happened. Nobody in the room needs to feel isolated any more because they can relate to one another’s difficulties.”
Participants are 2.6 times less likely to reoffend
Prior to the course starting, those attending have been through a lot: from the shame of being arrested to coping with life without a driving licence. And even after receiving their course completion certificate, they will still have a long journey ahead.
Rather than another slap on the wrist or watching back-to-back video clips of crashes involving drunk drivers, the course instead focuses on education and raising awareness of alcohol consumption and driving.
Participants also keep track of their own drinking, find out about its impact on their own health and use past experiences to identify moments when they have been tempted to get behind the wheel of a car. They then explore ways of changing that behaviour for themselves.
“Research over the years has shown this is the most effective approach,” Andrew says, “mainly because the background of alcohol consumption and driving is properly explained to everyone.
“The Department for Transport states that those who make the effort to attend a drink-drive rehabilitation course in the UK are 2.6 times less likely to reoffend.
“Some feel it should actually be part of the driving test. In Australia, drivers complete a similar course before getting behind the wheel of a car.”
The strength of alcohol in a single drink can vary… a lot
During the course, everyone learns about the amount of alcohol in a single drink – and that it is possible for drivers to unintentionally be over the legal drink-drive limit.
The legal limit is 35 micrograms per 100ml of breath for drivers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, in Scotland, it is much lower at 22 micrograms per 100ml of breath.
“We come across so many people who are pulled over and breathalysed the morning after an evening out,” Andrew says, “and were found to exceed the drink-drive limit.”
One unit of alcohol takes about an hour to absorb into the body, and another hour for the average adult to process. The number of units in a glass really depends on the size of the drink and its strength. A pint of strong lager can contain three units of alcohol, whereas the same volume of regular lager has just over two units.
Andrew explains: “These drivers simply hadn’t allowed enough time for their body to process the alcohol.
“Imagine he or she has been in the pub the night before and drank five pints of strong lager. The drinking stopped at 11.30pm.
“Five pints takes 15 hours to process, then add that extra hour for the alcohol to be absorbed… This means the driver shouldn’t have been behind the wheel until later in the afternoon.”
Brushing up on the UK drink-drive laws
There’s also a common misconception that drivers can only be arrested for drink driving if they’re pulled over by a police officer.
This, in fact, isn’t always the case and the drink-drive rehabilitation course goes through the relevant sections of the law.
“Drink driving legislation is much broader than many people think,” Andrew says, “participants are often surprised when it’s explained to them in full.”
He then uses a well-known scenario that sounds familiar: when nipping to the pub for a pint after work suddenly turns into a heavy drinking session.
Even if a driver had no intention of driving the car, using the keys to enter the vehicle to collect a bag or coat for the walk home is actually breaking the law.
“That simple action can land someone into trouble,” Andrew explains, “because he or she is holding the keys and physically opening the vehicle’s door while over the drink-drive limit. A police officer could arrest him or her with intent to drive under the influence.”
The drink-drive rehabilitation course also covers the longer term implications of having a criminal conviction, such as having to declare it on future job applications and on visas for overseas travel.
“The conviction can massively disrupt someone’s day-to-day life,” Andrew adds, “and many overlook the long-term significance of the offence. It will be hanging over them for at least a decade.”
Completing the course does have its benefits
One of the key incentives for completing the course is the driving ban reduction – by as much as a quarter in some cases.
So when a two year ban can be reduced by six months, that’s a significant amount of time and a helpful step towards getting back behind the wheel.
And while a drink driving conviction makes it trickier for drivers to get car insurance again, completing the course may help him or her secure a more affordable policy.
Specialist insurance broker Adrian Flux, which has produced a helpful guide to those convicted of drink driving, offers discounts for those who have completed a rehabilitation course and are preparing to get back on the road.
For example, a 29-year-old driver of 11 years with a drink-drive conviction can get a quote that’s up to £90 cheaper for the year if he or she has the rehabilitation course certificate.
And while this may lessen the blow, Andrew’s take home message from the course at Reform is very simple…
“Stay away from alcohol completely when you’re planning to drive,” he advises. “It’s the only way to be sure you’re completely safe.”
Getting you back on the road
Conor Johnstone, a specialist motoring defence solicitor at M.A.J. Law Ltd, explains that you may be entitled to apply for the early removal of your disqualification.
He said: “Section 42 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 sets out the criteria in order to be eligible for the early removal of your disqualification.
“You must: have been given a three year disqualification, and served at least two years; have been given a disqualification of between four and 10 years and served at least half; and have served five years in any other case.
“If successful, your licence would be returned to you before the full period of disqualification has expired. Meaning you could be back on the road much sooner than you anticipated.”