top of page

Can you keep your licence after DUI?

Updated: Apr 20, 2023

BY "DUI" I AM referring to drink driving. Lots of people today refer to drink driving as DUI, an example of the tremendous influence of Hollywood.

Firstly, the question. Can you keep your licence after DUI?

That depends on how you define "after". Do you mean after the case? The answer is yes if you win, but no if you lose.

Sherlock Holmes once said,
"when you have eliminated the impossible,
whatever remains, however improbable,
must be the truth”.

Let’s deal with what happens if you lose.

That’s simple. You’ll go off the road.

That’s unthinkable so -while I don’t lose sight of this risk and never minimise it- I do not dwell on it.

I focus on winning.

Most people arrested have never been in trouble before. One question preoccupies them after they've been released: am I allowed to drive?


This might seem obvious to most lawyers but it’s a valid question.

In some parts of continental Europe if you've been arrested for drink driving your driver’s licence is immediately seized by the police.

You don’t get it back until a Judge at preliminary court appearance says so.

At this early first court appearance you can ask the court to return your driver’s licence to you.

They may or they may not.

The Judge can decide, based on a number of factors, whether to grant a temporary restoration of your licence before the date of your future trial.

Often, if the Judge permits the return of your licence they may impose conditions. These can include permission to drive to and from work or other essential trips but no further.

We don’t have that system here, but you can imagine what it might look like if we did.

A similar system in Ireland might mean that a Judge in Dublin would return your licence -while you wait for your trial – on condition that you could drive within Dublin City Centre for work or essential trips only.

Any other trips outside the city or county would be prohibited until your case was finalised.

This might seem overly harsh until you discover the discretion afforded to Judges in some parts of the Continent.

We’ll return to that later.

Back to reality.

Once you’re arrested and released from the Garda station all your property is returned to you.

The police don't have any power to hold your property when you're released. Your property includes your wallet, keys, mobile phone and driver’s licence.

So you get it back.

Temporary disqualifications do not exist in Irish law. That means that even though you've been arrested and charged with drink driving, you are still entitled to drive until your case is finished.

There's a good reason for this: it would be unfair to impose a temporary disqualification before a court decided on the issue of guilt or innocence.

Back to our friends on the Continent.

Courts in some parts of Europe can impose a temporary or restrictive disqualification but they also have a power that Judges in Ireland don't have: they can choose not to disqualify you if they decide to convict you.

You don’t get away Scott-free.

If you want to stay on the road you will have to pay a significant financial penalty.

This doesn’t apply in every case and would certainly not apply if you had previous convictions or if someone was injured because of your driving.

But the judicial discretion does exist.

THAT DOESN'T happen here.

So, while you're free to drive until your trial date in Ireland, you will be disqualified if you are convicted.

A disqualification is mandatory if you're convicted. That’s absolutely certain.

As the idea of being put off the road is unthinkable that leaves people with one alternative: to fight the charges.

That decision usually leads to another question: if I fight the case and lose will I get a worse penalty?


Yet another question leads from that: will the Judge be mad at me if I lose?

No. Why would they?

What does this all mean?

Sherlock Holmes once said, “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”.

If you are convicted of drink driving, then you will be disqualified. It is impossible not to be. Therefore if you want to avoid that impossibility -and everyone does- then the focus must be on winning.

Winning is the truth, at least for you, because it eliminates the impossible.

How do you win?

No two cases are the same but drink driving cases are technical, extremely so.

This leads to the belief among some people, often upstanding, law-abiding folk, that if someone is acquitted that this is because of a “technicality”.

This is usually accompanied by an air of disappointment, as if society has somehow been robbed, that the guilty have gotten away with it, again.

They dislike what they see as people ‘escaping justice’, whatever that means.

They hold this view quite firmly, are convinced of the justness of their belief and will try hard to convince you too.

Until their son or daughter is arrested for drink driving.

Now things change. This upstanding citizen approaches a lawyer and implores them to “do something, anything” to help their unfortunate offspring.

You see, their child is different you know, is a good sort, doesn’t deserve such a harsh penalty because as parents they know how hard they have worked all their lives.

And besides, their child has never so much as picked up a parking ticket, never mind gone to court.

Hand wringing is common at times like this. Teeth-gnashing is not unheard of either.

The conversation moves towards the awful topic of “technicalities” that they had once disliked so much.

There are no such things as technicalities. They do not exist. There is just the law.

Either the law is followed, or it is not.

If it is then the State may find it easier to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

But if it is not, if the law is not followed by the State, then no Judge will be satisfied to convict someone, no matter how drunk they may have been.

If you are acquitted in such circumstances, you haven’t won because of a technicality.

You have won because the State didn’t follow the law.

We are a country of laws for a reason.

This is why so many multinationals come to Ireland. They don’t set up here because of the weather. It’s partly because we have laws which are enforced by an independent judiciary without political interference.

Some people may not always like the outcome of a court case but that is the price we pay for living in a democracy.

CAN YOU KEEP YOUR licence after DUI?

After you have been released from police custody you are perfectly entitled to drive so long as you are not intoxicated and have insurance.

You are entitled to drive until a court disqualifies you, if they decide to.

Holmes was not wrong when he concluded that “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”.

Truth is sometimes subjective.

When it comes to facing drink driving charges, the truth is that most people feel they don’t deserve to be thrown off the road for one mistake.

I agree.

It took a lot of time and effort to get your driver's licence all those years ago.

It was a huge moment in your life, a milestone.

It's worth fighting for.


bottom of page