Expert Blog

Drug Driving Law has changed

The drug-driving law changed at the start of March, with limits being set for both illegal and legal drugs in the blood. 

It had long been the case that authorities were required to prove a driver’s ability had been affected by the drugs they had consumed. However, the new law, which details legal levels for eight legal and eight illegal drugs in the blood, is more in-line with the well-established drink-driving law. Now, authorities simply need to prove drivers have drugs above legal limits in their blood in order to prosecute.

It is the greatest shake-up of drug driving laws since the 1930 Road Traffic Act, when it first became an offence to drive whilst “under the influence of drink or a drug to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the vehicle.

From 2 March, it became illegal in England and Wales if levels of any of the 16 named drugs in your blood exceed the government limits, even if you are fit to drive. The law doesn’t cover Northern Ireland and Scotland, but you may still be arrested if you are deemed unfit to drive. 
If convicted, penalties are in line with those for drink driving ranging from a minimum 12 month driving ban, a fine of up to £5,000, up to six months imprisonment and a criminal record.

Police can enforce the new laws with a field impairment assessment, including roadside saliva-testing. If they determine you are unfit to drive, you will be arrested and required to give a blood or urine test at the police station. But not all authorities are behind this - Greater Manchester Police have delayed enforcing this new law as they fear it could waste public money and Police time. They have concerns over the screening equipment and insufficient officer training for the use of this new technology, and have therefore chosen to delay enforcement for at least two weeks until these issues have been ironed out. 

Medical experts have expressed reservations over drivers’ varying metabolic rates and how prosecutors will prove motorists have taken more than the amount prescribed by a doctor. The London Evening Standard reports that nearly 9,000 drivers a year could face prosecution under the new legislation, but Ministers stress this would save more than 100 lives and prevent at least 500 serious injuries on the road each year.

Pharmacies have been called upon to ensure their patients understand the rules and have campaign material to distribute with their prescriptions. There may be occasions when a patient is on unusually high doses of these drugs, yet who may fall foul of the law. Importantly, patients should be aware of the new statutory medical defence created by the law change, which protects patients who test positive, if they can show the medicine was lawfully prescribed and taken according to the instructions.

Tim Bowden, Head of Operations at Hitachi Capital Car Solutions, commented, “This new legislation, as an extension of existing drink-driving laws, is a positive step forward. Simply put, you shouldn’t be behind the wheel if you are unfit to drive following consumption of alcohol or drugs, legal or illegal.

“However, drugs contain far more chemicals than alcohol and the effects can differ from person-to-person. Even if you’re taking over-the-counter or prescription medicines, both can render you unfit to drive, so it’s important always to read the instructions, understand the implications and remain vigilant.

“That said, honest drivers know when they are fit or unfit to drive, and will act responsibly. Although potentially not as clear cut as drink driving limits, the principle of the new law is a good thing and a positive step towards safer roads.”

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