What is Failure to Provide a Specimen?

The Road Traffic Act 1988 defines failing to provide a specimen as:

“An offence if, having been required to provide a specimen of breath, blood or urine for analysis, a person fails to do so, without reasonable excuse (after having/not having driven or attempted to drive).”

Basically, if the police suspect you might be under the influence and have even tried to drive, they can ask you to provide a specimen. Failing to give one can, and in most cases will be treated as an offence and will lead to a penalty equivalent to the one you would have received for the alleged drink driving offence.

After all, innocent people have nothing to hide, right?

What is a Valid Excuse for Failing to Provide a Specimen?

The law calls these reasonable excuses and there are only a handful of categories that include:

  • You weren’t driving, in charge of the vehicle or intending to drive
  • The officer hasn’t advised the reason for a specimen is that you’re under suspicious of being under the influence of drink or drugs. Under these circumstances you can refuse the test
  • You have a valid medical reason to refuse to provide a specimen

It’s worth noting that even if you’ve got a valid reason for failing to provide a specimen, you can still be charged with the offence. However, it’s likely there would be no penalty attached.

And you don’t have to have a life-threatening illness to refuse to provide a specimen. Everyday illnesses can dictate whether you’re able to, for example:

  • Asthma sufferers, people who suffer from panic attacks or those who have low lung capacity may find it difficult if not impossible to complete a breathalyser test
  • A fear of needles may mean you cannot give a blood sample
  • And urinary tract infections or prostate issues may mean you cannot provide a urine sample

You should be mindful however of using these excuses as it’s not enough to simply say that you suffer from one of these issues, and the police can request an alternative sample. For example, if you fail to provide a specimen by breathalyser and claim you have asthma but have no recorded medical history as an asthma sufferer, this would be a weak defence. Furthermore, the police officer may simply request a blood or urine sample.

As with everything, your defence will only be as strong as the evidence that sits behind it.

What is Not a Valid Excuse for Failing to Provide a Specimen?

There are a huge number of old wives tales about excuses that can and can’t be used to refuse to provide a specimen. The excuses below aren’t, in the vast majority of cases, valid and will typically lead to penalties:

  1. Refusing to provide a specimen on religious grounds
  2. Delay tactics such as requesting a solicitor is present, being silent or refusing to co-operate with the police
  3. Pleading insanity or a defence under the Mental Health Act
  4. Being treated roughly by the police

Delay tactics in particular can cause more harm than good. Providing specimens are one area where the police can force you to comply before getting legal advice if they deem it necessary to provide evidence further down the line.