Feb 15 2021

Special reasons: short distance

This is part 3 of our special reasons explainer series. Part 1 explains special reason are a way of avoiding a driving ban that follows a conviction for drink driving and part 2 talks about laced drinks. In this part we’ll be talking about persuading the court that the distance you drove is so short that you should not be disqualified from driving.

Surprisingly, the distance a person drives is one of the less important factors in a short distance driven case. More important are the questions why you were driving, whether you intended to drive further than you did and whether your driving could have put any other people at risk. In fact, there are seven factors that a court needs to consider when deciding on a short distance driven case, they come from the case of Chatters v Burke:

Was there was a possibility of danger to other people through you encountering them?
Did you intend to drive further?
Why were you driving at all?
How far did you drive?
What was the manner of your driving?
What were the road, traffic, and weather conditions at the time you drove?
What state was the vehicle in at the time?

The first thing to note is that Burke is setting a very low bar for the prosecution to overcome should they choose to oppose you. All that is required is the mere possibility that somebody might be placed in danger through your actions. Although when deciding this point the court should consider the events as they happened not invent some hypothetical situation that might have occurred. So, in Coombes v Kehoe the court found that there was no possibility of danger to others where a vehicle is driven only a few yards; however, Mr Kehoe had driven 200 yards in a lorry to collect his wages from his employer who was drinking in a pub. He collided with two cars as he attempted to park. The court held that he could not avail himself of a short distance special reason. In contrast, in DPP v Corcoran the court did find special reasons where Mr Corcoran drove 40 yards to a safe parking place at a slow pace on a well-lit road. So, we can see that the court will take account of factors such as the distance driven, condition of the vehicle, the manner of driving and the road conditions when deciding whether there was the possibility of danger to other road users.

The court should analyse a defendant’s reason for driving over the limit. In DPP v Humphries, Mr Humphries had been drinking all day and did not want to drive home so he decided it would be a good idea to steal a car. He and a friend attempted to start a nearby car but, in a police interview, Mr Humphries explained he was so drunk he couldn’t start the engine. He had driven the car to the extent that his friend pushed it forwards a few feet and it rolled back to its starting position. There was clearly no danger to others and the distance driven was around 10 feet; however, the court refused to find a special reason because Mr Humphries had intended to drive much further had he been able to start the car.

It’s worth mentioning a couple of our recent cases. In R v BV, our client had been drinking with friends. He and a friend walked home and got into BV’s car to smoke before going into the house that BV shared with his parents. A man parked on the same road saw BV and his friend walk past and get into the car so he called the police. BV’s friend sat in the driving seat and thought it would be funny to start the car and move it. BV objected and so got in the driving seat and re-parked the car. The court heard the evidence both from BV, his friends and from the independent witness who confirmed that BV had not driven the car to the scene and had not attempted to drive away. The court considered that there was no danger to others from BV’s actions and that he had been forced to drive by his friend’s actions – we did not represent the friend – the court found that there was no intention to drive further than necessary to re-park the car. BV was allowed to continue driving.

In another case, our client, CL, was seen by two police officers driving his car for around 100 metres on a public road and a further 50 metres in a private area not accessible to the public where he then parked his car. CL immediately admitted to the police officers that he had been drinking and said he was moving his car so it wouldn’t be in the way the following morning – he had parked in a disabled bay outside its hours of operation earlier that evening. He was charged with drink driving but the district judge declined to disqualify him finding that nobody was in danger as the road was well lit, there was no possibility of other vehicles coming due to the road layout and our client had a good reason for moving, namely so that those who needed to use the disabled parking bay in the morning would not be inconvenienced by his last-minute decision to drive.

It is worth us taking a moment before we finish to mention a potential problem that can appear in short distance driven cases and that is the case of DPP v Bristow, which is often invoked by both judges and prosecutors in short distance cases to add an extra layer of complication for defendants. In Bristow, the defendant had driven while over the limit after being told by his frantic teenage daughter that his 12-year-old daughter and 14-year-old niece had been sexually assaulted and were being held against their will at a nearby house. The court in that case held that the question courts “should ask themselves in these co-called emergency cases is this: what would a sober, reasonable and responsible friend… present at the time, but himself a non-driver… have advised in the circumstances: drive or do not drive?” Bristow was a case specifically about emergencies but because a popular motoring law textbook sought to conflate it with all special reasons arguments lots of lawyers, who have never read the actual judgment in Bristow, try to persuade courts to invoke the “sober and reasonable friend” test in short distance cases where it is not always appropriate. This is a good example of where using a specialist motoring law solicitor will be beneficial.

If you have been accused of a motoring offence and would like to discuss your case with an expert driving solicitor then please call us on 020 8242 4440 or send us a message via our contact page.