A tough new law against drug-driving comes into force next week however Greater Manchester Police will not be enforcing it for the present time.
‘The biggest shake-up of drug-driving laws for 85 years’ will be rolled out by the Department for Transport on Monday of next week the 2nd March 2015. In a similar vein to drink driving legislation, it places legal limits on eight illegal drugs and eight medicinal drugs and makes it an offence to drive a motor vehicle in a public place above the prescribed limit. The Department for Transport has set low limits for illegal drugs like cannabis and cocaine and higher limits for the eight prescription drugs.
Police should enforce the new laws with roadside saliva testing kits followed by blood and urine tests at the station. However, despite supporting the law that prevents drug-driving, both GMP officers and medical experts have expressed concerns over the screening equipment and the ability to uphold the new legislation in court. They fear it could waste public money and police time. It is also understood that GMP fears officers have not been sufficiently trained in the use of the new equipment. As a result of GMP’s concerns they have chosen to delay enforcement until these issues are resolved.
Chief Insp Mark Dexter said :
“We have taken the decision, in GMP, not to make use of the legislation whilst we satisfy ourselves that the legal and procedural issues involved in prosecuting these cases can properly withstand legal scrutiny.
“We are mindful that if we get this wrong then a significant amount of court time and public money could be wasted. There are issues that have not been resolved.”
He stressed that GMP’s message to drivers was still ‘none for the road’ for both drugs and alcohol.
Change in legislation
Previously, to proceed to prosecution for drug driving offences, it had to be proved a motorist was not fit to drive as a result of having taken illegal drugs and not just that they had their drugs in their system . This still stands as an offence, however the new legislation goes much further and makes it an offence simply to be driving whilst having drugs in your system above the prescribed limit regardless as to whether this affects your impairment to drive.
The penalty under the new legislation is the same as for driving with excess alcohol namely a minimum 12 month driving disqualification, a fine up to £5,000 or up to six months in prison.
To help the screening process, police forces have been provided with saliva testing devices to use at the road side. However these are only currently equipped to test for cocaine and cannabis leaving 14 untraceable substances.
To test for these, a driver would have to be taken to the police station and undergo a blood test. Furthermore the screening device cannot be used as evidence in court for any of the drugs and a urine or blood test will be required as an evidential specimen. Medical experts have also expressed concerns over drivers’ varying metabolisms and how prosecutors will prove motorists have taken more than the amount of prescribed drugs prescribed by a doctor.
However, the Department for Transport has insisted the new law is watertight.
Transport Minister Robert Goodwill said:
“The new offence is supported by the National Roads Police Lead and operational procedures are in place to allow for the successful prosecution of drug drivers
Written by Ruth Peters.