Since 2 March 2015, the implementation of the Drug Driving (Specified Limits) (England and Wales) Regulations 2014/2868, created a new criminal offence – to drive with any of the17 specified controlled drugs (which includes both illicit and prescription substances) above a specified level in blood.
The Regulations only apply in England and Wales. The aim is to reduce expense, effort and time wasted from prosecutions that fail because of difficulties proving a particular drug impaired a driver.
Specified limits have been set for each ‘drug’ accordingly. There is zero tolerance approach to 8 drugs most associated with illegal use, with limits set at a level where any claims of accidental exposure can be ruled out. A road safety risk based approach to 8 drugs most associated with medical uses, and a separate approach to amphetamine that balances its legitimate use for medical purposes against its abuse.
The government is unable to provide any guidance on what amounts of dosage would equate to being over the specified limits. There are simply too many variables that impact people differently, such as physical characteristics and where each person will metabolise the drug at different rates. Eating or drinking will also have an effect on the blood concentration.
However, it should be observed that the limits on medicines have been set intentionally high so to avoid criminalisation of any motorists who are lawfully taking medication. There is a statutory defence for the driver, if it can be shown that the drugs had been prescribed and the driver had adhered to the advice of the person by whom the drug was prescribed or supplied.
It is advised that motorists who may be effected consult with their doctor about whether they should drive if they have been prescribed any of the drugs specified within the Regulations. The Government have also advised motorists ought to carry evidence of the medication they are taking in the event they a stopped by the police.
The new laws have led to an 800% increase in arrests for the offence, according to statistics for the Department of Transport, as well as a 98% conviction rate.
The penalties for drug driving are the same as for drink driving. A conviction therefore may result in a sentence of:
- A minimum 12-month driving disqualification
- A criminal record
- An unlimited fine (in relation to offences committed after 12 March 2015)
- Up to 6 months imprisonment
- An endorsement on one’s driving licence for 11 years
It should be observed that officers can now use screening devices to test for cannabis and cocaine at the roadside, and screen for other drugs, including ecstasy, LSD, ketamine and heroin at the police station. Drivers that pass the roadside check can still be arrested if the police suspect that their driving is otherwise impaired by drugs.