Avoid a disqualification with Special Reasons

A ‘special reason’ is not a defence but can help you avoid a driving ban. The most common special reasons are;

  • Spiked drinks
  • Short distance driven
  • Driving in an emergency
  • Passive smoking
  • Reflux. 

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What are ‘special reasons’ in drink and drug driving cases?

A ‘special reason’ is not a defence but an extenuating or mitigating circumstance which, if argued successfully, could result in you avoiding a driving ban. It is important to note that a special reasons argument must only relate to the ‘offence’ and not the ‘offender’, meaning, for example, any argument regarding the loss of your job if disqualified (or other mitigation), would not be successful.

Section 34(1) of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 states:

(1) Where a person is convicted of an offence involving obligatory disqualification, the court must order him to be disqualified for such period not less than twelve months as the court thinks fit unless the court for special reasons thinks fit to order him to be disqualified for a shorter period or not to order him to be disqualified.

Put simply, a person convicted of an offence which carries a mandatory disqualification (such as drink or drug driving) can avoid the disqualification if the magistrates accept that a special reason applies. The court can reduce the driving ban to less than the 12 months or remove it altogether. As an alternative, the court could impose penalty points. 

The most common examples of special reasons are:

In drink driving cases;

  • Driving in an emergency
  • Short distance driven
  • Spiked drinks
  • Reflux

In drug driving cases; 

  • Driving in an emergency 
  • Short distance driven
  • Passive smoking 
  • Consuming the drug unknowingly 

Below we take a closer look at some of the most common special reasons arguments. Please don't panic if you cannot apply any of these to your circumstances. This is not an exhaustive list. There are many other examples of special reasons that we would be pleased to discuss with you. 


If you were driving in an emergency this may amount to a special reason for drink and drug driving. You must have considered all conceivable alternatives before deciding to drive your vehicle, this includes calling the emergency services. You must satisfy the court, on a balance of probabilities, that the situation was a genuine or real emergency. The court will also consider what a “reasonable and sober” person would have done in your circumstances.

Driving in an emergency could also amount to a defence. If you would like to discuss this with a solicitor, free of charge, please call us. 

Driving only a short distance can amount to a special reason, allowing the court to reduce your ban or not to impose any disqualification whatsoever. Your chance of success will largely be determined by the exact distance that you did drive, but this is not the only factor considered by the court. The court will also consider:

  • In what manner was the vehicle driven?
  • Did you intend to drive further?
  • What were the road, traffic and weather conditions?
  • Was there a possibility of contact with other road users?
  • What was the reason for driving?

M.A.J. Law have been successful with a ‘short distance driven argument’ even in circumstances where our client drove over a mile. If we can mitigate the circumstances by considering the points above, the distance you drove becomes less important. Of course, if you only drove a couple of yards then we will need to place the emphasis on this point. 

The leading case on 'short distance' is Chatters v Burke 1986. 

You may feel that the amount of alcohol you consumed (if any) could not account for the breath reading you provided. This may be because you consumed alcohol unknowingly, which would constitute a special reason for drink driving. It is not necessary to show that your drinks were maliciously ‘spiked’, as this situation could arise from an innocent mistake, such as a friend buying you a stronger drink than you asked for.

Expert Evidence 

The obligation falls on the defence to establish what your blood alcohol concentration would have been had you not consumed the additional alcohol. The most common way of doing this is with the use of expert evidence. M.A.J. Law work closely with a team of expert witnesses and toxicologists who can produce reports for use in court cases. If the expert concludes that it was the alcohol consumed unknowingly that placed you over the prescribed limit, we would seek to rely on this report at your drink driving special reasons hearing.

The CPS always have the option of introducing expert evidence if they wish. The aim in doing this would be to undermine our report or cast doubt over the expert’s calculations. However, due to funding shortages and a decreasing prosecution budget, the CPS will often fail to serve any expert evidence whatsoever. They may then be stuck with a favourable defence report which they can’t argue with!


It can be useful to have the person who ‘spiked’ your drinks attend the court hearing as a witness, in order to bolster your drink driving special reasons defence. Again, the ‘spiking’ does not have to be malicious and could arise from an innocent mistake. Whatever the circumstances, there is little to no chance that this person would be charged with an offence, particularly if they were not aware that you would be driving. Time and time again the CPS will threaten to lay charges, but these threats are often hollow and unfounded.

You may have only discovered that your drinks had been spiked following your release from the police station, so don’t worry if you didn’t raise it in police interview.

If alcohol is present in the stomach when reflux occurs, this can introduce alcohol into the upper-respiratory tract and mouth cavities. Current evidential breath testing devices should be able to distinguish between alcohol from deep lung air and alcohol generated by reflux. However, a recent investigation (2015) into the effect of reflux on breath alcohol levels suggests that it is possible for alcohol vapour to pass constantly from the stomach into the oesophagus. This would not be detected as “mouth alcohol”, even by an approved device.

As such, successfully presenting reflux as a special reason could raise inaccuracies in the evidence presented against you.

Medication can affect a breath test result if;

  1. it contains alcohol that would contribute to your alcohol level
  2. it interferes with alcohol metabolism
  3. it produces a false positive on a breath machine

Many common medications, including those available ‘over the counter’, can block the breakdown of alcohol in the stomach before it is absorbed into the blood stream. This results in more alcohol being absorbed into the bloodstream increasing your blood alcohol concentration dramatically.

We pay particular attention to the following medication;

  • citalopram (Cipramil)
  • dapoxetine (Priligy)
  • escitalopram (Cipralex)
  • fluoxetine (Prozac or Oxactin)
  • fluvoxamine (Faverin)
  • paroxetine (Seroxat)
  • sertraline (Lustral)
  • vortioxetine (Brintellix)

If you take any of the medication listed above, it is important that you contact us immediately. 

You may know by now that the legal limit for Cannabis is 'zero-tolerance'. This means that even a small amount of Cannabis could result in a 12 month driving ban. There have been many scientific studies into the effects of second-hand smoke inhalation and THC levels. One study, by Edward J Cone, found that THC was still present in a person's blood three hours following exposure to Cannabis. The study also proved that in a poorly ventilated area, secondhand inhalation was no different to direct consumption of Cannabis. 

This type of argument usually requires expert evidence in order to establish the likely THC concentration based upon your exposure. The court will need to be satisfied that the THC result (given by the police) is consistent with your passive smoking. 


Think Special Reasons Could Apply in Your Case?

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