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Could you be drunk in charge of your vehicle whilst parked for the night?

Beware of the law regarding drink driving whilst wild camping in a motor home, even though you may not be intending on going anywhere after you've had a drink you are still technically in charge of your vehicle in a layby!

When you call your camper van home it can be easy to forget that it is still a vehicle and therefore governed by the laws of the road, even when you're fast asleep inside! If you at any point think that you may well spend a night in the 'wild' somewhere instead of booked into a camp site, then you need to familiarise yourself with the road laws regarding your vehicle and personal situation.

Although to many of us it may seem utterly ridiculous that we might be arrested for drink driving when parked up for the night, but in the eyes of the law a motor home is no different to a car and all it comes down to proving without doubt that you had no intention of driving it anywhere that night!

Although some laws regarding parking and sleeping in motor homes or HGV's can cross into grey areas of legislation, the law on being drunk and in charge of your vehicle are quite clear. The offence is as stated below:

Sec 5(1) RTA 1988
If a person is in charge of a
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.

The Police National Legal Database describes 'In Charge' in this way:-
"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 to figure that you need to be spotted doing something odd or suspicious in order to be investigated in the first place. That being said we spent an entire year parked on various roadsides and was never once spoken to by the Police, all the same we have always been careful to make sure that one of us was still well within legal and safe limits just in case ;) To avoid unwanted confrontations in the first place bear in mind our Wild Camping Tips, make sure to follow The Waki Way Code of Conduct and be sure to remain polite when speaking with officers. Remember that they're working for the good of all of us. 

As irritating as some of the laws can be, the Police do a sterling job in protecting us from drunk drivers on our highways. Unfortunately there are many people about with either missing or faulty moral compasses that will happily risk the lives of everyone else and as it stands these laws can be the only way that police are able to make sure that the threat to life has been removed. How many of those people do you think would lie and say that they weren't going anywhere, then hop into the drivers seat without a second thought? Of course officer discretion always plays a major role in whether they deem you to be a risk to anyone but proving that you're not is likely harder than you might think. Especially since in a motor home, unlike a car, you probably have curtains hiding the fact that you were already tucked up in bed when the officer knocked on your door. You can't have left your keys with another person if they are all on board and also drunk, nor could you realistically argue that your own good morals will simply ensure you wouldn't be going anywhere. There is no other way around it, don't be drunk!

Also to consider is the fact that our bodies process alcohol in different ways to each other. In reality there is no set amount that we can say EVERYONE can drink without becoming impaired and, depending on our size, sex, age, health, and metabolism, no way of calculating whether or not we will be OK in x amount of hours. The only way of knowing if you are legal or not would be to measure your breath in the same way that Police do. The UK's legal drinking limit exists purely to prosecute those clearly at an agreed impairment level, not to prove you're still safe. Many would argue that the only safe limit is zero.

If you do have a drink it is worth reminding yourself that it can take a surprisingly long time for alcohol and its effects to leave your body so be careful that you do not drink so much that you may still be over the limit in the morning! It may well be the last (or first!) night of your holiday where you are legally and safely parked in a camp site or at home, but if you're still over the limit when you 

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leave in the morning you are risking both your licence and the lives of your family and others! For peace of mind it can be beneficial to purchase a self breath-tester to regularly check that you are within safe limits, if the machine says you're close to the limit then hold that extra glass of wine...

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Have you any experiences to tell regarding these laws? Post your comments below! 

Sarah is a UK artist and writer with a lifetime interest in camping and survival techniques.

Living the #vanlife since before it was a hashtag and touring on two wheels with her husband Ryan, they have a wealth of camping and motorcycling knowledge to share, and know a thing or two about packing light! read more

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