AN intoxicated motorist’s “breathtakingly bad” driving at speed on the A1(M) could have killed a family of five, a court heard.

Daniel Pennick was under the influence of drink or drugs, or both, at the wheel of a loaned Mercedes A180, which veered into the path of a family car, at approximately 100-miles per hour, on the southbound carriageway, at about 6am on April 29.

The stricken Renault Scenic was thrust down an embankment, coming to rest on its side amid undergrowth, a mile-and-a-half south of the Bowburn interchange.

Durham Crown Court was told the occupants, a couple with children, two aged six and one just a year old, secured in the back.

Shaun Dryden, prosecuting, told the court: “Despite the extent of the damage none of them sustained serious injury, with only the couple in the front suffering whiplash-type injuries.”

The Mercedes came to rest 100-metres down the hard shoulder, having sustained extensive front end damage.

Pennick was approached by the Renault driver and claimed he drove at the speed limit, but must have suffered, a tyre “blow-out”.

Police found cocaine in the centre console of the Mercedes, which had loud music blaring from its radio.

Mr Dryden said the officer formed the view the defendant was intoxicated and Pennick gave a positive swab reading for drugs, but the amount taken could not be ascertained.

Pennick claimed he drank vodka after the collision, “to calm his nerves”.

He later refused to allow to give a blood sample at hospital, claiming to be “needle-phobic”, despite having tattoos on his arms.

Mr Dryden said the defendant was at large for eight months after failing to appear at an initial magistrates’ court hearing in the case, before being re-arrested on a bench warrant.

Pennick, 26, of Tithe Barn Road, Hardwick, Stockton, denied dangerous driving and failing to provide a specimen of blood, but admitted cannabis possession.

But he changed pleas to guilty to all charges after turning up late on the day of his scheduled trial.

Amrit Jandoo, mitigating, conceded it was, “an appalling set of circumstances”, to which the defendant had been to some extent “in denial” but was now, “under no illusion as to the potential consequences of his driving.”

Mr Jandoo said the defendant, an asbestos remover, was returning home from working a night shift for his employers, in Newcastle, at the time of the collision.

Jailing him for 25 months, Judge Jonathan Carroll tod Pennick: “You were involved in a truly shocking road traffic collision, caused exclusively by your breathtakingly bad dangerous driving.

“The fact everybody got out of that car without significant injury is almost incredible.”

Pennick was also banned from driving for three years.