Alcohol and sleeping in your motorhome

[dropcap]A [/dropcap]common question on our forums is “Can I legally have a drink in my motorhome when I’m in a public place. Hardly surprising that this question is asked a lot because more than ever, motorhomers are parking in places other than campsites. We have schemes like Britstops which offer a lot of pub stopovers, and there are plenty of other directories and maps, such as Funster Keith’s map which he lists over 900 pubs that allow night-stops and diligently keeps it updated.

If you drink more than the drive limit in your motorhome in a “public Place”, then you run a real risk of being found to be “Drunk In Charge” This is an offence on a par with “Drink Driving” and carries similar fines, endorsements and disqualifications.

The offence of being Drunk in Charge is committed if:

“a person is in charge of any motor vehicle on a road or other public place after consuming so much alcohol that the proportion of it in his breath, blood or urine exceeds the prescribed limit he is guilty of an offence”

Questioning the Association of Chief Police Officers and asking if there is any dispensation at all for motorhomers and you’ll get no advice other than the definition above being repeated. So that’s it. Go over the limit in your motorhome in a public place and whether you intend to drive or not you are committing the offence of Drunk in Charge. 

Let’s deal with the public place aspect first. If you are pitched in pub car park while the pub is open, then you are very likely in a public place. When the pub closes, this becomes a grey area as to whether it’s public and might depend upon legal interpretation. However, you should assume that most places that invite us to pitch are more “public” than we might imagine.

Now let’s take the person in charge aspect. Essentially there is no legal definition for the term “in charge” so each case will depend on the exact circumstances you find yourself in. The Police National Legal Database describes ‘In Charge’ like this:-

“There is no hard and fast rule or strict test for what constitutes ‘in charge’ for the purposes of being in charge of a vehicle whilst under the influence of drink or drugs under section 4 and being in charge of a vehicle whilst over the prescribed limit under section 5 of the 1988 Act. However, a close connection between the defendant and control of the vehicle is required. That connection may be evidenced by the defendants position in relation to the car, his actions, possession of a key which fits the ignition, his intentions as regards control of the vehicle and the position of anyone else in, at or near the vehicle.”

You have a legal defence. if you can show that there was no likelihood of you driving your vehicle whilst you remained in excess of the prescribed limit or unfit. However, this is for you to prove rather than the Police to disprove.

If you are drunk and sat in the driving seat with the motorhome keys on your person or in the ignition. You are very likely to be charged.  If you are charged your defence will be based upon the balance of probabilities that you were not intending to drive. 

Plenty of things that you do might indicate that you had no intention of driving. If you have booked/paid for a night, you are in your pyjamas, your silver screens are in place, you are on levelling blocks, your bedroom slide is extended, your steadies wound down, your driving seat swivelled inward ect. All these things indicate that your intention was to sleep and not drive.

However even then, if you are off-your-face at 1 am and admit that you are going to hit the road at 7 am, the police officer might calculate that even though you are in your pyjamas, you will still be over at 7 am and might arrest you. Remember your defence is that you do not intend to drive, and there is no likelihood of you driving until you are sober to do so.

Best practice

When you are parked in a public place wherever there is a chance you might be moved on. Such places include lay-bys, deserted car parks, etc. You should never be over the limit. The risk of suddenly becoming Drunk In Charge or Driving Under the Influence are high.

If you are parking in a place like a pub car-park, assume it is public and build your defence before you have had a drink. If after you have been drinking you decide that you are parked in the wrong place or facing the wrong way, you only have to be seen in that seat, and you risk arrest. Similarly, if you sit in the drivers seat to spin the seat around, or start the engine to charge batteries, etc. If you get the wrong copper no matter what your protestations you might rightly be charged, your statutory defence comes long afterwards with you having to prove your defence to a magistrate.

Things you can do to ensure you are not arrested.

  • Make sure the landlord knows your intention to sleep in the car park.
  • Ensure the motorhome is parked in the right place and not causing any obstructions before you have a drink.
  • Put your silver-screens in the windscreen (internally will do)
  • If you use a third party steering lock, pop it on.
  • If you have a slide-out, put it out
  • Put jacks or steadies down
  • Never have the keys in or anywhere near the ignition
  • If you have a safe, put the keys in it
  • Never sit in the driving seat unless it is spun around

Remember, if you are over the limit, and deemed to be in charge then you may well be technically guilty. However if you make it really obvious that you have no intention of driving then, a reasonable police officer will not be interested in you and even if they have occasion to speak to you will readily accept you are no danger to yourself or anyone else and have no intention of driving.