|Would Jonny Mason's actions count as drink driving in the UK?|
I read recently that Halfords finance director, Jonny Mason, has been arrested, charged and convicted for drink driving in Norway where he was found to be driving at twice the Norwegian drink driving limit.
Because I am a criminal law solicitor who specialises in offences involving motor vehicles and alcohol, I take a particular interest when I see a story about drink driving and, while you may find it difficult to understand, for me his case is very interesting because it raises several questions about English law. So, in this and the next few posts I will be looking at those points and discussing the position in England compared to that abroad.
In this post, we’ll be asking “what counts as a motor vehicle so far as drink driving law is concerned?”
Mr Mason was found to have driven a golf buggy at no more than 6MPH when returning from a bar to his holiday apartment. When we think of drink driving most people think of cars, motorcycles, vans and so on, not golf buggies. So, is a golf buggy a motor vehicle?
Section 185 of the Road Traffic Act tells us that “motor vehicle” means “a mechanically propelled vehicle intended or adapted for use on roads”. Having conducted some internet research, it seems that golf buggies are not usually intended for use on roads, although some can be adapted for such use on a limited basis. This must be correct since golf buggies are not normally fitted with safety equipment, such as seat belts, headlights and so on that is required to drive a vehicle on the road.
Some people have suggested to me that if something needs road tax (or Vehicle Excise Duty) then it must be a motor vehicle; however, this is incorrect. VED is governed by the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994, which defines vehicles having to pay road tax as “mechanically propelled vehicles” and there is no requirement for a vehicle to have been “intended or adapted for use on a road” for it to need road tax. Therefore, we can say that a vehicle may be subject to VED even though it is not a motor vehicle for the purposes of drink driving offences.
So, what we know is that to be guilty of drink driving you must be driving a motor vehicle. We also know that a motor vehicle is one that is intended to be used on the road, or one that has been adapted for such use. That must mean that a vehicle, at the time it is built or adapted, complies with the various rules on construction, design and safety for it to be on the road. A golf buggy will not normally meet these very strict rules and so cannot be said to be intended or adapted for use on the road. Therefore, it cannot be possible to commit an offence of drink driving while driving an unadapted golf buggy.
Thus, we can say that had Mr Mason been driving his golf buggy here in the UK he would not have been guilty of drink driving.
Because I know readers of this blog are all astute, intelligent and good looking individuals I know that you are all screaming, “what about the Licensing Act 1872, section 12?” And, you all have a very good point. Section 12 of the 1872 Act criminalises people who are drunk in charge of cattle, horses, steam trains and carriages. Clearly our golf buggy is not a cow, horse or a choo-choo, but is it a “carriage”? At first glance, the answer must be a resounding “no”. Carriages are great big things drawn by horses and used by the Queen and Lord Mayor of London to tootle around town, aren’t they? Well that was (more or less) the argument employed by Mr Taylor when he appealed his conviction under section 12 for being drunk in charge of his bicycle in 1879 in the case of Taylor v Goodwin. In that case, Mellow, J. gave judgment saying:
“I think the word ‘carriage’ is large enough to include a machine such as a bicycle which carries the person who gets upon it, and I think that such person may be said to ‘drive’ it. He guides as well as propels it, and may be said to drive it as an engine driver is said to drive an engine.”
To my mind that definition must encompass a golf buggy as well as a bicycle. So we now know that a bicycle, golf buggy and the Queen's carriage are all basically the same thing if you’re a judge.
Taylor was followed by the Divisional Court in the 1950 case of Corkery v Carpenter and again 2011 in Coates v Crown Prosecution Service when Mr Coates’ Segway was held to be a carriage after he was found driving it on the footpath, contrary to section 72 of the Highway Act 1835 (who said Victorians weren’t a forward-thinking bunch?).
So, we now know that had Mr Mason been charged in the UK, while he could not have been convicted of drink driving, he may have been liable for being drunk in charge of a carriage.
In the next part, we’ll look at private land versus a road or public place and see whether the prosecution could have won against Mr Mason had he been charged in the UK rather than Norway.