What you need to know about Drug Driving Motor Offences
Historically, motorists who were driving whilst impaired by drugs would face a charge of driving whilst unfit under Section 4 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 which carries similar penalties to those of drink driving.
This often proved problematic for the Crown Prosecution Service however as they had to prove that a driver was not only impaired, but also that this impairment was caused by the presence of drugs (or alcohol depending on the charge). There was never any set limit for drugs the way there has always been with alcohol cases so securing a prosecution often proved difficult.
To combat the difficulties with prosecutions and in an effort to clamp down on driving whilst impaired through drugs, a new “drug driving” provision came into force on 02 March 2015.
It is now illegal to drive if either:
- you’re unfit to do so because you’re on legal or illegal drugs
- you have certain levels of illegal drugs in your blood (even if they haven’t affected your driving)
“Legal drugs” are those as part of a prescription or bought over-the-counter. If you are taking medicines and are not sure if you should drive it is strongly advised to talk to your doctor, pharmacist or healthcare professional to seek professional guidance. You should also fully read the enclosed instructions with all medication to ensure that you are aware of any ill-effects that could affect your ability to drive.
When Suspected of Drug Driving
The police can stop a motorist and require you to do a ‘field impairment assessment’ if they think you have taken drugs or are in any way impaired. This is a series of impairments tests that have been in operation for many years as part of the “driving whilst unfit” legislation and include tasks such as walking in a straight line.
Police can now also use a roadside drug kit (much like a breathalyser) that screens for cannabis and cocaine.
If the officer(s) think you are unfit to drive because of taking drugs, or an illegal drug is shown on the roadside device, you will be arrested and ultimately be required to provide a sample of blood or urine at the police station for analysis.
If the analysis of your blood confirms the presence of drugs then you may be charged. If the drug is a prescription drug then you will be charged if there is evidence of impairment. If the drug is illegal, then you will be charged regardless of impaired driving.
Types of Drugs and their Limits
Following extensive consultations with medical experts, the limits included in the new regulations are not set at zero as drugs taken for some medical conditions can be absorbed into the body to produce trace effects.
So what drugs are included and what are the prescribed limits? The drugs are broken down into illegal drugs and those used for medicinal purposes.
|‘Illegal’ drugs (‘accidental exposure’ – zero tolerance approach)||Threshold limit in blood (per litre)|
|Lysergic acid diethylamide||1µg/L|
|Legal/‘Medicinal’ drugs (risk based approach)||Threshold limit in blood (per litre)|
You should continue taking any medicine(s) that have been prescribed to you as advised by your doctor or healthcare professional, or according to the patient information leaflet that comes with the medicine.
Unlike the old “impairment” law, this new legislation provides a medical defence if you’re taking your medicine in accordance with a instructions, provided that you are not impaired.
You can drive after taking legal drugs if:
- you have been prescribed them by a doctor, pharmacist or healthcare professional and strictly adhered to the advice on how to take them; and
- they aren’t causing you to be unfit to drive (even if you are above the specified limits above)
You could be prosecuted if you drive with certain levels of these drugs in your body and you haven’t been prescribed them.
Drug Driving Penalties
The penalties imposed for those found guilty of drug driving are very similar to those of drink driving and failing to provide a specimen.
You will face a minimum disqualification of 12 months and your licence will also show you’ve been convicted for drug driving which will last for 11 years.
In more serious cases you could face up to 6 months imprisonment.
The penalty for causing death by dangerous driving under the influence of drugs is a prison sentence of up to 14 years.
If convicted of drug driving it could also mean that:
- your car insurance costs will increase significantly for approximately 4 years
- you lose your employment
- your travel is restricted to certain countries like USA
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