New drug-driving offence in force from 2 March 2015

Following on from our recent post on the lower drink-drive limit in Scotland, a new offence will soon come into force in England to combat driving where a driver has certain drugs in his or her body above the limit permitted by law.  It will mirror existing excess alcohol cases where the simple presence of alcohol above the permitted level creates the offence. Transport lawyer Tim Ridyard explains. 

This change in the law should be a wake-up call to those drivers who drive having used illicit drugs but also to drivers who may be using prescribed medication and who need to be aware that they cannot do so above certain limits.

A heads-up for businesses

For businesses this is an opportune moment to review drink/ drug procedures including testing of drivers. It is highly advisable that businesses make their staff aware of this new regime, not least where staff are dependent on the retention of their driving licence for their employment.

For which drugs does low tolerance apply?

There are very low tolerance limits indeed for eight named drugs. Some of these are very widely used and are as follows: benzoylecgonine, cocaine, cannabis, ketamine, lysergic acid diethylamide, methylamphetamine, MDMA, 6-monoacetylmorphine (heroin).

Greater tolerance for specific prescription drugs

There are much greater tolerances for eight prescription drugs which are: clonazepam, diazepam, flunitrazepam, lorazepam, oxazepam, temazepam, methadone and morphine. An additional drug, amphetamine, used both as a medicinal drug also associated with illegal use is to be categorised as a prescribed drug but will not be included in this legislation until after 2 March 2015.

Limits for the prescribed drugs are generous in that they are greater than doses normally prescribed - accordingly most drivers should be unaffected unless they have failed to take the medication in accordance with professional advice e.g. doctor/ dentist/ pharmacist or they have failed to comply with manufacturer instructions. A defence will be available where a driver takes medication as described but is not impaired, albeit they are over the prescribed limit.

The screening process

In terms of evidence police officers will carry out screening for the presence of drugs by using approved swabs that can detect their presence. Where the presence of drugs is revealed, the police will then proceed to the next stage, normally arrest and the obtaining of blood samples to confirm the level of drugs within the driver's body and only then using a qualified medical professional as is already the case now.

What penalties will apply?

The basic sentencing framework for all existing drink/drug offences will apply to the new offence i.e. conviction carries a maximum potential penalty of 26 weeks’ imprisonment and/or max. £5000 fine with a mandatory minimum 12 month driving disqualification.

Woodfines can provide further advice and assistance with regard to this and any other road transport/traffic issues, not to mention employment law issues arising.

We produce below a full list of the prescribed and non-prescribed drugs that fall under the new drug-driving offence published by HM Government:

New drug driving offence March 2015

For more information

For further assistance and representation in relation to road traffic or road transport offences for both private and commercial drivers, please contact transport lawyer Tim Ridyard in Cambridge on 01223 411421 or Mike Hayward in Milton Keynes on 01908 202150.

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