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Despite the zero-tolerance approach to drink-driving that the law has long taken, drug driving law has always been noticeably less comprehensive. Perhaps due to the higher numbers of drink-drivers, alcohol has always been the more pressing problem for police responsible for regulating fitness to drive.
However, the imbalance is now being addressed. This weekend, drug driving laws were updated to establish specific limits for driving under the influence of eight illegal drugs, and eight prescription drugs.
What Does The New Law Say?
Under the new law, there will be virtually zero-tolerance given to those caught behind the wheel under the influence of any listed illegal drugs - including ecstasy, heroin, cocaine and LSD.
The (legal) prescription drugs which are now regulated include diazepam, methadone and morphine, amongst a range of others. Unlike with illegal drugs, it will only be an offence to drive over the specified limits of the relevant legal drugs, as opposed to with any illegal drugs. It will also constitute an offence if the drugs haven’t been prescribed.
However, it will remain legal to drive if the drugs were prescribed and medical advice has been followed, and if the prescribed drugs are not causing the driver to be unfit to drive. However, unprescribed prescription drugs will not be allowed.
How Will It Be Enforced?
Police have introduced ‘drugalysers’ – a roadside screening method for cannabis and cocaine – to immediately determine when drivers are unfit for the road.
The drugalyser will be used to more quickly identify and prosecute drivers, while suspects may also be taken into police stations for a more comprehensive test for further narcotics.
Drivers who test positive – or are found to be over the limit – for the relevant drugs will face a criminal record, loss of licence and a fine of up to £50,000. In the worst cases, drivers could face up to 6 months in prison.
Long-term, this can have a significant negative impact on employment, car insurance, and even travelling to countries like the USA.
How Has This Been Received?
Appending existing legislation which makes it an offence to drive under the influence of any drug, these recent changes have been welcomed by many.
With around 200 people killed in Britain each year by drug drivers, Robert Goodwill – the Road Safety Minister - has said that the change clearly shows the government’s message: “if you take drugs and drive, you are endangering yourself and others… and risk losing your licence and a conviction.” Others have suggested that it finally brings the law regarding drug driving up to a standard of that set by drink-driving regulations, and demonstrates how serious driving under the influence of drugs really is.
The new law is set out on this gov.uk page. For information or advice on this - or any other – legal driving issue, contact the motoring offence team at Barlow Robbins.
This article was written by Anastasia Evans.