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New drug driving laws came in to force March 2015

New drug driving laws came in to force March 2015

The government’s new drug driving laws came into force March 2 2015. The aim of these laws is to make it easier to arrest and convict drug drivers. The new offence means that it is an offence to drive with 16 specific drugs (above specified levels) in the blood. These 16 drugs include 8 illegal drugs and 8 legal prescription drugs. Therefore it is illegal to drive if you are impaired by drugs or you have one of these 16 drugs in your system above a specified level.

If you are deemed impaired or drugs are detected above the levels, you will be arrested and taken to a police station for blood and / or urine tests.

Prior to these changes, the police had to prove that the drug taken caused the impaired driving. The changes in the law were made so that police did not have to prove impairment i.e. an offence is committed if the driver has drugs in their system over the limits set.

Working along-side the existing offence of “driving whilst impaired through drink or drugs”, the new drug driving offence will make it quicker to identify those driving under the influence of drugs.

So why is taking drugs a factor in road safety?

According to government statistics, impairment by illegal or legally prescribed drugs was a contributory factor in over 30 deaths and 181 serious injuries on Britain’s roads in 2013.

Driving under the influence of drugs can increase the likelihood of an accident due to the following possible effects:

  • blurred vision
  • impaired reaction times
  • poor co-ordination
  • loss of concentration
  • inability to assess risk and the consequences of your actions
  • aggression, hallucinations and paranoia
  • inability to judge distances, proximity to objects and speed

Road safety minister, Robert goodwill said: “The new law will save lives. We know driving under the influence of drugs is extremely dangerous”

Illegal drugs and drug driving offences

Illegal drug use and driving is believed to be more common that thought. British researchers have found evidence of illegal drug use in the bodies of 18% of drivers and 16% of motorcyclists who were killed on the roads in 2000.

Dr Kim Wolff, academic and government advisor commented: “It is worrying to note that so many drug drivers said that they felt safe to drive after taking illegal drugs. Illegal drugs seriously impair skills required to drive safely, such as reaction time and decision making. “

A list of the 8 Illegal drugs

Drug driving offence: 8 illegal drugs

Legal or prescription drugs and drug driving offences

The 8 prescription drugs covered by the new law, relate to drugs which have been assessed to correlate with increased road safety risk. The drug limits have been set at limits deemed to impair driving as evaluated by a panel of medical experts. You could be guilty of committing a drug driving offence if you drive with drugs above the specific limits set, unless you can prove that the medication and dose have been set according to a medical practitioner (or instructions on the medication) and your driving is not impaired.

The 8 legal prescription drugs and limits: microgram (µg) per litre of blood

Drug driving offence: involving legal prescription drugs

Amphetamine used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Parkinson’s disease is also planned to be included within the offence shortly, subject to Parliamentary approval.

This list of drugs includes certain medicines that are sometimes abused as well as those that increase road safety risks. These include medication used to treat:

  • extreme pain
  • anxiety or inability to sleep
  • drug addiction
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, also known as ADHD
  • multiple sclerosis

Patients often under estimate the effects of drugs, including over the counter medication. In a survey by Brake and Direct, 17% of drivers admitted to ignoring these warnings or not checking the label at all.

How are drivers to be tested for drugs?

Under the new laws, the police will be able to conduct road side tests as well as field impairment checks. The road side test includes the use of a screening kit which detects cocaine and cannabis. There are future plans to introduce kits which can screen for more drugs.

Field Impairment Tests (FIT)

The police can also use FITs to determine a driver’s level of impairment through drugs or drink.

The FITs involve a series of mental and physical co-ordination tests to determine impairment. These include:

  • Eye tests: pupil dilation and reaction to light
  • Balance and co-ordination tests
  • Judgement tests: Performing a task and answering questions

If the police determine that you have not completed the tests adequately, you can be arrested and taken to a police station for a blood or urine test to determine the presence of legal or illegal drugs. You are entitled to free legal advice at the police station, day or night.

Penalties for drug driving

If you’re convicted of drug driving you’ll get:

  • a minimum 1 year driving ban
  • an unlimited fine
  • up to 6 months in prison
  • a criminal record
  • Your driving licence will also show you’ve been convicted for drug driving. This will last for 11 years.

The penalty for causing death by dangerous driving under the influence of drugs is a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

You could also face other problems

As well as legal sanctions, your drug driving offence could have the following implications:

  • Your car insurance costs will increase significantly
  • if you drive for work, your employer will see your conviction on your licence
  • you may have trouble travelling to countries like the USA

Is there a medical defence for drug driving

A “medical defence” applies to the new offence of driving while in excess of a specified drug limit, and not to the offence of impaired driving.

If a driver has tested positive for the specified legal prescription drugs, and the medication was taken in accordance with the dosage set by their doctor, dentist or other healthcare professional or the instructions printed on / within a medication, then the defence may be claimed.

It is important to note: it is still an offence to drive if impaired by legal drugs – even if they have been taken within the prescribed limits.

A number of over-the-counter drugs also have the potential to cause drowsiness. These include medicines that you might take for:

  • Allergies such as hay-fever
  • Cough
  • Anti-nausea treatments
  • Medicines for gastrointestinal upsets

It is important to read the labels on medication and to discuss the possible side effects with your health practitioner.

What to do if you have been charged with a drug driving offence

Taking legal advice at an early stage to diminish reputational damage and the impact on your licence is vital with any road traffic offence.

If you or a family member has been charged with a drug driving offence, we can help. IBB’s drug driving offences solicitors will discuss your case with you and consider whether you have a defence. Contact road traffic and drug driving offences legal expert Caroline Dunne for advice. Contact us today on 01895 207214 or via email at caroline.dunne@ibblaw.co.uk.