A new offence of driving with certain controlled drugs above specified limits is due to come into force on 2 March 2015. These new rules will mean it will be an offence to be over the specified limits for each drug whilst driving, as it is with drink driving
At present, drug driving charges generally come under Section 4 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 which states that an offence has been committed when a person drives (or attempts to drive) on a road whilst unfit through drink or drugs.
No longer impairment requirement
The CPS must not only prove the presence of a drug but also that the driver was impaired at the time. At the roadside the officer should carry out a number of impairment tests and if the officer considers someone to have failed these tests then they will arrest them and take them into custody and request a sample of either blood or urine. Any sample will then be sent away for analysis in an effort to prove the presence of drug(s).
The new legislation means that the prosecution will not longer have to prove the element of impairment and it will simply be an offence to be driving over the prescribed limit on a public place or road.
A Department for Transport spokesman said:
‘The new law comes into force from the 2nd March and is designed to catch people who risk other people’s lives by getting behind the wheel after taking drugs, and not those taking legitimate medicines that don’t impair their ability to drive.’
In March 2013, the department took advice from a medical panel on drug limits that the government should consult on. The department accepted most of the recommendations made by such panel and consulted on limits that are a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to deter people driving whilst under the influence of drugs.
The limits to be included in the new regulations are not set at zero as drugs taken for some medical conditions can be absorbed in the body to produce trace effects. However they are set very low, for example, one cannabis joint could put you over the prescribed limit. The limits to be included in the new regulations are: Benzoylecgonine, 50 µg/L, Cocaine, 10 µg/L, Delta–9–Tetrahydrocannabinol (Cannabis and Cannabinol), Ketamine, 20 µg/L, Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) 1 µg/L, Methylamphetamine – 10 µg/L, Methylenedioxymethaphetamine (MDMA – Ecstasy) 10 µg/L and Monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM – Heroin and Morphine) 5 µg/L.
There are also limits for prescription drugs although these have higher limits and exceed normal prescribed doses. Ministers insist that this means that the vast majority of people can drive as they normally would, so long as they are taking their medicine in accordance with the advice of a healthcare professional or as printed in the accompanying leaflet and that their driving is not impaired.
Road Safety minister Robert Goodwill said:
‘If you are taking your medicine as directed and your driving is not impaired, then you are not breaking the law and there is no need to worry. We advise anyone who is unsure about the effects of their medication or how the new legislation may affect them, to seek the advice of their doctor or pharmacist.’
There will also be a medical defence if a driver has been taking medication as directed and is found to be over the limit, but not impaired.