Mental health and failure to provide

As we close out Mental Health Awareness Week, we’d like to highlight a common but serious motoring offence we deal with that sometimes has mental health issues at the heart of its defence.

The offence is failing to provide a specimen for analysis.

Section 7(6) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 makes It an offence to fail, without reasonable excuse to provide a specimen of breath, blood or urine for analysis when required to do so by an officer.

This is a serious offence which can attract a custodial sentence in the most severe cases. Drivers who are convicted of failing to provide a specimen also face a mandatory disqualification from driving for at least twelve months, a criminal record, and are classed as a high-risk offender, meaning that they must pass a medical before the DVLA will return their licence.

Are people with mental health issues more likely to fail to provide a specimen?

Being arrested and taken to the police station is a stressful experience for anyone. However, for people suffering with mental health conditions such as PTSD, and anxiety, the experience can be unbearable. They might be confused, frightened and suffer from panic. It is in these heightened states that motorists with mental health problems are required to undergo the evidential drink or drug drive procedure, in some cases, without them having consumed any alcohol or drugs in the first place.  

Not surprisingly, some motorists feel overwhelmed by the situation and either refuse to provide a sample, or are simply unable to do so, either through panic or hyperventilation for example.

When this happens, the person is typically charged with failing to provide a specimen and given a Court hearing in the Magistrates’ Court. They would then face all of the criminal consequences as a result.

But is this fair? In my experience of dealing with failure to provide allegations, people with mental health problems are not treated fairly at the police station. They may even raise their mental health issues to the custody sergeant or investigating officer during their time in custody simply to have it overlooked, or to be told they’re faking it. This is wholly unacceptable.

There is a defence open to people with mental health problems

Fortunately, there is a defence that people with mental health problems are able to use, provided they can show a ‘causal link’ between their psychological condition and their inability to provide the sample. We are usually able to establish this causal link by obtaining supportive evidence from medical professionals and experts. Once the reasonable excuse defence is mounted, it is for the Prosecution to disprove it, which usually proves to be an insurmountable burden. Indeed, a driver cannot be convicted of failing to provide a specimen if they had a reasonable excuse.

An example of a reasonable excuse in driving cases could be where an individual is so overwhelmed with panic that they are unable to understand the officer’s instructions or comply with his requests.

Sadly, there seems to be a lack of awareness of this defence. Many who suffer from mental health problems simply plead guilty to the charge and are left with the stigma of having the conviction on their record.

We are seeking to raise awareness amongst the police, who should look out for these conditions and treat individuals accordingly, and also amongst sufferers of mental health problems to let them know that all is not lost, and they may have a defence available to them.

Article written by Expert Motoring Lawyer and specialist in Failure to Provide a Specimen cases, Alison Ashworth.

Why we do what we do:

At Ashworth Motoring Law we believe that no driver’s licence should be placed in jeopardy due to a lack of legal or technical knowledge. That’s why we’re always striving to deliver relevant, current content to keep you up to date with issues that could affect your freedom to drive.

We know the devastating impact that a disqualification from driving could have on a person’s life, career and family. It’s from that understanding that we fight to save the driving licences of motorists throughout the Country, to ensure that no person is disqualified where a valid defence or judicial discretion is available.

If you’ve been unlucky enough to be accused of failing to provide a specimen and need to keep your driving licence, you can call one of our team of Expert Motoring Lawyers at any time on 0330 33 22 770 or email Our specialist driving offence solicitors will listen to the details of your case and let you know instantly if your licence could be saved.