New drug driving laws are being introduced which will make driving or being in charge of a motor vehicle on a road or other public place with a concentration of any specified controlled drug above the maximum specified limit for that particular drug a criminal offence.
- The new drug driving laws will come into force on 2nd March 2015
- New legislation specifies maximum legal limits for 16 drugs including THC (cannabis), Cocaine, Diazepam, Temazepam, Morphine, Methadone, Clonazepam, Heroin and Oxazepam
- A preliminary road side drug testing device has been type approved and will be rolled out across police forces in England and Wales
- The penalties for drug driving will be similar to those for drink driving including a minimum 12 month driving disqualification, a fine of up to £5,000 and/or up to 6 months imprisonment
The new offence of “driving or being in charge of a vehicle with concentration of specified controlled drug above specified limit” has been introduced in order to diminish the wasted time, expense and effort involved by the police and the courts when prosecutions under Section 4 of The Road Traffic Act 1988 (Driving or being in charge, when under the influence of drink or drugs) often fail due to the difficulty of proving that a motorists driving was, at the time, impaired by a particular drug.
Under the new drug driving laws it is no longer necessary to prove that a driver was impaired, only that the proportion of the drug in the motorists body exceeded the maximum legal limit for that particular drug (a strict liability offence similar to exceeding the drink drive limit), however, there is a defence to the new offences under certain circumstances.
The new laws do not change the fact that motorists who take legal or illegal drugs can still be prosecuted under section 4 of The Road Traffic Act 1988 (Driving or being in charge, when under the influence of drink or drugs). They can still be charged with this offence even if they do not exceed the new drug drive limits, if it can be proven that they were driving, attempting to drive or in charge of a motor vehicle while they were unfit to do so as a result of their ability to drive properly being impaired, at the time, by the drug(s) in their body.
New Drug Driving Legislation
Section 56 of The Crime and Courts Act 2013 amends The Road Traffic Act 1988 by inserting a new section, namely section 5A, which makes it an offence to drive, attempt to drive or be in charge of a motor vehicle on a road or other public place when a motorist has a specified controlled drug in their body and the proportion of the specified controlled drug in their blood or urine exceeds the maximum legal specified limit for that particular drug.
A statutory instrument entitled The Drug Driving (Specified Limits) (England and Wales) 2014 which was made on 24th October 2014 and comes into force on 2nd March 2015, specifies 16 controlled drugs. 8 illegal drugs and 8 medical drugs, alongside the corresponding maximum legal limit in blood for each specified drug as outlined in the table below.
|Controlled Drug||Limit (microgrammes per litre of blood)|
|Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (Cannabis & Cannabinol)||2|
|Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD)||1|
|Methylamphetamine (Crystal Meth)||10|
|Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA – Ecstasy)||10|
|6-Monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM, Heroin & Morphine)||5|
The Government will also be setting a maximum legal limit for amphetamines after various consultations have taken place and Scotland will be carrying out their own consultations before legislation is made regarding the maximum legal drug driving limits in Scotland.
Preliminary Drug Testing Device
A new mobile preliminary road side drug testing device, the Securetec DrugWipe 3S S303G was type approved by The Secretary of State as of 18th December 2014. The DrugWipe 3S will be rolled out across police forces in England and Wales and allows police officers to obtain an indication as to whether a motorist has either cocaine or THC (the main active ingredient of cannabis) in their body.
|DrugWipe 3S Detects Cannabis and Cocaine in Minutes|
The DrugWipe 3S analyses a specimen of a persons saliva and produces a result in 3 to 8 minutes. If the drug test indicates that a) the person has either drug in their body and b) the proportion of the drug in the person’s body is likely to exceed the maximum specified legal limit for that drug, they can be arrested, taken to the police station and be required to provide an evidential specimen of blood or urine for analysis. If the proportion of the drug in a persons blood or urine exceeds the maximum legal limit for that particular drug, they can be prosecuted and convicted of a criminal offence.
Police officers will have the power to administer up to three preliminary drug tests.
Additional mobile preliminary road side drug testing devices that can detect other drugs are expected to become available for use by the police, once type approved, in due course. Securetec Detektions-Systems AG, the developer of the DrugWipe 3S has developed other drug detection kits that can detect Opiates, Amphetamines, Methamphetamines, Benzodiazepines and Ketamine. So far only the DrugWipe 3S has received type approval for use by law enforcement in the UK.
Power to administer preliminary tests
Motorist should be made aware that while the new road side drug testing device only detects the presence of cocaine and cannabis, this does not mean that if they have other drugs in their bodies, they will not be caught and face prosecution!
If a police officer reasonably suspects that a person:
- is driving, attempting to drive or is in charge of a motor vehicle on a road or other public place; or
- has been driving, attempting to drive or in charge of a motor vehicle on a road or other public place; and
- they have alcohol or a drug in their body or are under the influence of a drug; OR
- They have committed a traffic offence while the vehicle was in motion;
Or a police officer reasonably believes:
- that a person was driving, attempting to drive or in charge of a motor vehicle on a road or other public place and an accident occurs owing to the presence of said motor vehicle;
Then a police officer can require a person to co-operate with any one or more preliminary tests including a preliminary breath alcohol test, a preliminary impairment test (aka Field Impairment Test (FIT Test)) and/or up to three preliminary drug tests.
A person commits an offence and will be arrested if they fail to co-operate with any preliminary test and will be required to provide an evidential breath, blood or urine sample for analysis.
A person who co-operates with any one or more preliminary tests, the result of which indicates that a person may be unfit to drive or is likely to exceed the new legal limits, due to taking drugs can be arrested and be required to provide an evidential specimen of blood or urine for analysis.
It is a defence for a motorist that is charged under new legislation for driving or attempting to drive a motor vehicle or being in charge of a motor vehicle on a road or other public place with concentration of specified controlled drug above specified limit, if they can show that:
- The specified controlled drug had been prescribed or supplied to them for medical or dental purposes,
- They took the drug in accordance with any directions given to them by whom the drug was prescribed or supplied, and with any accompanying instructions (so far as consistent with any such directions) given by the manufacturer or distributor of the drug; and
- The possession of the drug immediately before taking it was not unlawful under section 5(1) of The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (restriction of possession of controlled drugs) because an exemption in regulations made under section 7 of that Act (authorisation of activities otherwise unlawful under foregoing provisions).
The above defence is not available if a person’s actions were:
- contrary to any advice, given by the person by whom the drug was prescribed or supplied, about the amount of time that should elapse between taking the drug and driving a motor vehicle, or
- contrary to any accompanying instructions about that matter (so far as consistent with any such advice) given by the manufacturer or distributor of the drug.
The defence is designed to safeguard people who take legally prescribed medication, or legal over the counter medication, which may contain any specified controlled drug. In order to rely on this defence, any drug taken by a person must be taken as directed by their doctor, pharmacist or dentist and/or taken as directed by the patient information leaflet of any such drug. The defence is commonly referred to as ‘the statutory medical defence’ and is only applicable when a person whose possession of the drug immediately before taking it was lawful.
In respect to a person being in charge of a motor vehicle on a road or other public place with concentration of specified controlled drug above specified limit, it is a defence to prove that at the time the alleged offence was committed, the circumstances were such that there was no likelihood of that person driving the vehicle while exceeding the specified limit for that particular drug.
If a person has a specified controlled drug in their body and they exceed the legal limit for that specified drug or if a person whose ability to drive was impaired due to a drug in their system, they can be prosecuted and can be sentenced to a minimum driving disqualification of 12 months, a £5,000 fine and/or up to 51 weeks imprisonment.
Drug Driving Statistics
A report by an expert panel on drug driving, which focuses on driving under the influence of drugs, commissioned by the Department for Transport (DFT) states that impairment by drugs was reported as a contributory factor in approximately 3% of all fatal road accidents in Great Britain in 2011, resulting in 54 deaths. The report also states that there is evidence to suggest that drug driving is a much bigger road safety problem than reported and may actually be a contributing factor in closer to 200 road deaths per year.
A national statistics annual publication, Reported Road Casualties Great Britain: 2013, produced by the Department for Transport (DFT) shows that impairment by drugs was reported as contributing factor in 594 road traffic accidents that year, however the statistics only include accidents where a police officer attended the scene and impairment by drugs was reported as contributory factor. As stated above, there is evidence to suggest that impairment by drugs may actually be a bigger problem than what reports suggest.
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.”
More information on drug driving laws in England & Wales can be found here.