How to avoid a ban: short distance
In this series of blog posts, we’ve been looking at how to avoid being disqualified from driving. In part one, we mentioned the obvious point that you can fight a trial and win, and have covered the general concepts of special reasons for avoiding a ban and exceptional hardship. We have also looked in detail at a special reason called Laced Drinks. Today, we are going to look at Short Distance. I know, it’s obvious right? If you drive a short distance then you’re golden! Sadly, it’s a lot more complicated than that so let’s dig in and see what’s what.
What do I need to prove to win?
Short distance – you need to prove you drove a short distance, right? I mean if it was that simple then everyone accused of an offence that could lead to a ban would just say “I only drove a short distance” and that would be the end of driving bans, so you don’t need to think long to realise there’s more to it than just the distance driven.
The leading case here is one called Chatters v Burke, it’s an elderly case dating from 1986 (elderly for a court case, but you’re not old if – like me – you date from sometime before the 1980s). In that case, Mr Burke was a passenger in a car being driven by a friend. The friend lost control and crashed off the road and into a field. Mr Burke helped his friend by driving the car out of the field and onto the road where he parked it having driven a few yards at most. For his good Samaritan act, Mr Burke was charged with drink driving by the police. At court, the magistrates imposed a fine but refused to disqualify him from driving saying that the short distance was a special reason for not imposing the ban. The prosecution appealed. The appeal resulted in a seven point test that defendants must today satisfy if they are to claim short distance:
- How far was the vehicle actually driven?
- What was the manner of the driving?
- What was the condition of the vehicle?
- Did the driver intend to drive further than he actually drove?
- What were the prevailing road and traffic conditions?
- Was there any possibility of danger being caused to other road users?
- What was the reason for the defendant driving when he did?
If it wasn’t obvious before, it should be clear now that short distance is about a lot more than just the distance driven.
Just to make things worse, often courts will ask you to deal with a case called R v Bristow, which is a case that asks courts to think about what a sober and reasonable friend who was present at the scene but himself unable to drive would have advised the defendant to do at the time. I think that it’s a perfectly reasonable question for the court to ask; however, it is a mistake to think it must always be asked. Bristow dealt with a two-point special reasons argument: emergency and short distance. The question about the sober and reasonable friend was asked specifically in relation to the emergency part of the case, not the short distance part. This is often missed by lawyers, including both judges and authors of respected legal works on driving offences, so it is always worth having a copy of Bristow to hand when arguing short distance so that you can prove it is irrelevant to special reason cases.
Let’s dive a little deeper into what we do need to prove to answer each of the seven questions.
How far was the vehicle actually driven?
The point here is not so much about proving just how far the car was driven. It’s about proving that it was driven a sufficiently short distance to qualify for the special reason.
The cases to consider here are James v Hall, Coomes v Kehoe, and DPP v Cocoran.
Hall was decided in 1968. Mr Hall has been to his daughter’s wedding during the day and in the evening went to a friend's house where he had some alcoholic drinks. His friend invited Mr Hall to stay the night and suggested that he put his car on the friend’s driveway. Thus sometime after midnight, Mr Hall was seen by a police officer driving his car from the road onto his friend’s drive. He admitted drink driving but was not disqualified as the magistrates found that the short distance was sufficient to amount to a special reason not to disqualify. The prosecutor, Arnold James, appealed. The appeal court rejected the appeal saying that the distance driven was so short as to be a special reason.
Kehoe was decided in 1972 and involved a lorry being driven for 200 yards along a busy road. There were no special reasons in that case, because the distance involved traveling among other road users and was thus too far.
Corcoran fell between Hall and Kehoe. The distance driven was more than a few yards but less than 200 yards. Mr Corcoran had moved his car inside a car parking intending for his colleague to collect it in the morning. The court held that was a short enough distance for a finding of short distance.
The general thrust from the case law is that the further you drive the less chance you have of winning a short distance argument. Once you get to 200 yards you are facing an uphill battle because the possibility of danger to other road users increases significantly – we’ll come on to that a bit later. We can sum up the current position as saying: the shorter you drive the better, but in any event the distance should be measured in yards not miles.
What was the manner of driving?
This isn’t particularly complicated and I don’t think we need to cite any law to explain what is meant.
The slower you drive and the more in control the vehicle is, the better your chances of success will be. If you drive fast and without consideration for other road users then you will not be able to avoiding a driving ban by claiming short distance.
What was the condition of the vehicle?
Again, we don’t need to delve too deeply to work out that a poorly maintained vehicle with faults will produce less sympathy from a court than a well maintained and properly functioning vehicle.
We should be getting a feeling by now that the central point of short distance is not the distance driven but the safety of other people who might be using the road at the same time as our driver.
Did the driver intend to drive further?
This really is one of the key points that a court needs to consider. I once had a man call me saying he had read about short distance and wanted to run it, great. He said he had driven about half a mile when police stopped him, so he’s already pushing the limit of how far he could go. “How much further did you plan on driving?” I asked. “To Manchester,” he replied. “And, where were you when the police stopped you,” I asked feeling nervous already. “North London,” came the reply. I didn’t end up representing him, but I don’t think I need to tell you that a drive from London to Manchester is far, far too far.
Because the court is assessing the danger that a drunk driver poses (it’s usually a drunk driver although short distance can be equally useful in no insurance cases), the distance you intend to drive really shouldn’t be any further than the few yards discussed in the section about how far you actually drove.
So, to win a short distance argument you need to prove both that you actually drove only a few yards and that you did not intend to drive more than a couple of hundred yards at most.
What were the prevailing road and traffic conditions?
This is another one that doesn’t need much law mentioned. If the road conditions are difficult then the risk increases. If there is a lot of traffic on the road then the risk increases. Thus, if the road conditions are poor and the traffic is heavy then you have less chance of winning.
In Coombes v Kehoe, which we talked about above, one of the major problems for Mr Kehoe was that there was heavy traffic and a lot of pedestrians on his 200 yard route. Perhaps he would have been more successful had the roads been completely empty when he drove.
Was there the possibility of danger to other road users?
This is the most important of the seven questions because it directly addresses what the other six points merely skirt around.
The first thing to note here is the use of the word, possibility. It is not asking about a real risk, a high risk, nor even a risk that actually exists. It is asking only where there is a possible risk. That is a very low bar for a prosecutor to overcome.
If you think about the cases we’ve talked about so far. In Burke, the defendant was moving his car just a few yards. In Corcoran, it was a longer distance but inside a car park rather than on the road so there was less chance of somebody appearing suddenly. While in Kehoe, the defendant drove along a busy road with actual risk everywhere.
We can say then that to win, you need to show not only that there is no actual risk but that the possibility of a danger occurring is so low the court can ignore it. It is important therefore to adduce evidence that shows the risk is low or non-existent. A good example is a case I dealt with a few years ago. The defendant drove his car from a parking space on the road into a private car park around the corner. We were able to use maps and photographs of the area to show that the road was closed at one end and there was nothing on the road that would bring other road users to it. Therefore, there was a low risk to anybody else and my client kept his driving licence.
What was the reason for the defendant driving when he did?
This is a surprisingly important point that is often overlooked.
While you may only be going a few feet, have a vehicle in excellent condition, on a clear road, where there is no possibility of danger to others, if you have no good reason for driving in the first place then the court is entitled to decline your special reasons application!
What counts as a good reason will depend on the facts in each case. It is also important how you put across your reason. In the case I mentioned a moment ago where we used photos and maps to show there was no likelihood of anybody else coming along and being put at risk, the other concern was the defendant’s reason for driving. He had parked in a disabled spot at night when the disabled space was available for anybody to use. He had moved his car because his friend found him space in the private car park and said he would get a ticket if he left the car in the disabled space when restrictions began in the morning. The judge hearing the case rightly picked up on the fact that avoiding a parking ticket is not a good reason to drive over the limit. However, I made the point that by moving the car, the defendant was freeing up the space for use by somebody who might need it due to their disability the next morning and that was sufficient for the judge to allow the special reason.
In another example, my client moved his car to park it safely after a drunk friend had abandoned it in the middle of the road. The judge in that case accepted that my client drove only to ensure the vehicle was properly and safely parked.
So, we can say that if you can show a reason for driving that assists others you will stand a much better chance of success than if you drive for no reason.
To summarise briefly, we can see that short distance is the sort of argument that can save your driving licence; however, it is more complicated than just saying “I didn’t drive very far”. There are a lot of points to prove before you can be sure of winning.
If you have been accused of drink driving – or any other motoring offence – and you want to find out how you can go about saving your driving licence, call us today on 020 8242 4440. You can also email us via our contact page.