Motoring offences – Special Reasons: The argument that could keep you your licence

What would losing your driving licence mean to you?

If you’ve been charged with, or are awaiting sentence for a drink driving charge, it’s a question you are very likely to be asking yourself and no doubt worrying about.

Section 34 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 provides that where someone is convicted of an offence that carries an obligatory disqualification (such as drink driving), the court must disqualify that person for a minimum of 12 months unless the court for special reasons thinks that it is appropriate to order a shorter period of disqualification or to order no disqualification at all.

Therefore, disqualifications from driving following a conviction for drink driving can sometimes be avoided if so-called ‘special reasons’ arguments are advanced, successfully argued and established to the satisfaction of the sentencing court.

What is a special reason?

A special reason is not a defence to a drink driving charge; it’s mitigation to ask the sentencing court to exercise its discretion in not ordering a disqualification.

To be a special reason, it has to be something that is a mitigating or extenuating circumstance, directly connected with the commission of the offence itself and which is in itself capable of properly being taken into consideration by the sentencing court.

There is no exhaustive list of what that mitigating or extenuating circumstance might be, but cases where special reasons have been established include those where:

  • the vehicle was driven as a result of an emergency;
  • the vehicle was driven only a very short distance;
  • cases where alcohol or drugs have been taken inadvertently (such as cases where someone has been spiked).

When the Defence raise an argument of special reasons the sentencing court must carefully consider a number of factors:

  • The reason for driving the vehicle
  • The distance the vehicle was driven
  • The manner in which the vehicle was driven
  • The condition of the vehicle driven
  • Whether or not it was the driver’s intention to drive further
  • The road and traffic conditions at the time the vehicle was driven
  • Finally (and most importantly), the possibility of danger to other road users at the time.

Even if special reasons are established, it is still a matter for the sentencing court to decide whether to use their discretion to not order a disqualification.

The burden is on the defence to establish the special reasons on the balance of probabilities. To successfully do this may include calling evidence, hearing from witnesses, cross-examination and submissions.

Successfully running a special reasons argument is a complex and technical process. If you feel that advice and legal representation by a skilled barrister is likely to improve your chances, then please read our step-by-step guide and then get in touch with the clerks in our Brighton Office who can discuss your needs with you and then match you with a barrister to assist.

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