Failure to provide a specimen for a driving offence

If the police ask you to provide a sample at the roadside or the police station and you fail to do so, you may face charges. Failing to provide a specimen is generally considered more serious than excess alcohol by the court.

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What is failure to provide a specimen?

If a police officer suspects that you are driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, you may be stopped and asked to provide a specimen of breath, blood, or urine for analysis.

Not doing so is against the law, as set out in the Road Traffic Act 1988. If you don’t comply with the officer’s request, there are a number of ways you might find yourself breaching the law. You could find yourself accused of:

  • Failing to co-operate with a preliminary test
    If you refuse to take a breathalyser test, or another sobriety/impairment test when asked to do so by a police officer – either at the roadside or at the police station – you may be in breach of the law.
  • Failing to provide an evidential specimen for analysis
    If the police ask you to provide a breath, urine, or blood sample at the police station and you do not comply, you may face conviction.
  • Refusing permission for a laboratory test
    The police must obtain permission before carrying out tests on a specimen they have taken. If you fail to give permission for the police to carry out a laboratory test on the sample you have given, you might be deemed to be in breach of the law.

You can also be charged with failing to provide a specimen if you refuse one form of test but volunteer to take another - for example, refusing a breathalyser but volunteering to take a blood test. You do not have the right to ask for your preferred test, while the police do have the right to impose a specific test on you.

Is there a reasonable excuse NOT to provide a specimen?

There are times where it could be reasonable not to provide a specimen. The court may find that you have a 'reasonable excuse' for failing to provide a specimen based on the following grounds:

  • A medical condition
    Suffering from a relevant medical condition – such as asthma or limited lung capacity in the case of a breath sample or a prostate issue in the case of a urine sample – can be seen as an excuse not to provide a sample. But this would need to be backed up by substantial medical evidence.
  • A mental health condition
    This might be pre-existing or brought about by the circumstances of the situation in which the sample is requested. Examples could include anxiety or panic attacks. You may also need to provide medical evidence to use this as part of your defence.
  • Police behaviour
    There are strict procedures for the police to follow around obtaining a specimen. If they do not follow them, your case can be contested and may not go to court. Police officers must also warn you that failure to provide a specimen might lead to prosecution – if this warning is not given, then the case may be challenged.
  • A phobia of needles
    If a blood test is requested by police, a reasonable excuse for not complying could be a genuine phobia of needles, which will need to be backed up by the opinion of a doctor or medical expert.
  • Mitigating circumstances
    A number of other mitigating circumstances might affect your specific case when asked to provide a specimen – for example, if you find it difficult to pass urine in stressful circumstances and the police made it difficult for you.

If you have a medical reason for not providing a sample, your solicitor will usually arrange for you to be assessed and your medical records reviewed in order to present them as evidence.

What are the penalties for failure to provide a specimen?

The penalties for failing or refusing to provide a specimen at the police station include a maximum of six months’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine, and a ban from driving for at least one year.

Failure to co-operate with a preliminary test, such as a roadside breathalyser, comes with a penalty of four penalty points on your licence or a 12-36 month driving ban, or a £1,000 fine.

The penalties for failing to provide an evidential specimen for analysis depend on whether you were driving or simply in charge of the vehicle. If you were driving, you face 3-11 penalty points or a 12-36 month ban, a £5,000 fine, or six months’ imprisonment. And if you were in charge, you could receive 10 points or a 12-36 month ban, a £2,500 fine, or three months in prison.

If you have been convicted of a drink or drug driving offence in the last 10 years, you face even stronger penalties, such as disqualification from driving for up to five years.

The length and severity of any driving ban or other punishment depends on whether you made a genuine attempt to provide a specimen and whether your refusal to provide a specimen was deliberate. A well-argued case by an experienced solicitor can help to reduce the punishment you could expect to face.

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How long do I have to take action?

If you have failed to provide a specimen after being stopped by the police on suspicion of drink or drug driving, it is important to seek legal advice from an experienced motoring solicitor as soon as you can after you’ve been informed that you have committed an offence.

First4Lawyers and our specialist solicitors can help you to build a solid case that significantly increases the likelihood of your punishment being reduced or your conviction being unsuccessful.

We can work with you to establish the details of your situation and how your case will be viewed in the eyes of the law. To get your defence off to the best possible start, contact us for legal advice as soon as you can.

What should I do if I've been stopped by the police?

When you are stopped on suspicion of driving under the influence of drink or drugs, you will have to follow the police's instructions. This means that you will have to provide the type of sample they request – whether that's blood, breath or urine.

But the police must warn you that failing to provide a sample could lead to prosecution. If they don’t, you could defend your actions and this could lead to an unsuccessful prosecution.

If you have failed to provide a specimen, it is vital to take legal advice from a specialist lawyer. They will be able to help you during the initial stages of the investigation, gather the relevant details of your case and quickly establish how your prosecution can be defended or your sentence reduced.

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