Stricter rules designed to catch drivers under the influence
Many people are unaware of new drug drive legislation which came into force from 2 March 2015 in England and Wales, and which is aimed at anyone caught driving under the influence of a variety of prescription and recreational drugs.
The new law is designed to catch people who risk other people’s lives by getting behind the wheel after taking drugs which may have an effect on their reactions and their ability to drive in an unimpaired manner.
Police will now be able to use ‘drugalysers’ to take up to three saliva tests at the roadside to identify any drugs used. If any of these are positive, then the motorist could be taken to a police station for a blood test.
Under the old offence of being impaired by drugs while driving, prosecutors had to show a driver’s ability had been affected by what they had taken. Now, they will simply have to show that the individual had taken drugs.
Motorists found guilty will face an automatic driving ban of at least a year, as well as possibly jail of up to six months and a fine of up to £5,000. Their driving licence will also show they have been convicted for drug driving, which will last for 11 years.
The extent of the UK’s drug driving problem was revealed by road safety charity, Brake, last year in a survey showing that the equivalent of one million drivers admitted to having driven on drugs in the past year.
One in nine said they thought they had been a passenger with a driver on drugs. It is now estimated that drug driving may account for as many as 200 deaths a year in the UK.
At the same time, recent research conducted by Kwik-Fit Insurance Services has shown widespread ignorance of the new laws. Of 1,028 adults surveyed in the UK:
- Nearly half were completely unaware of the new drug driving laws.
- Over two thirds believed that not enough was being done to make drivers aware of what the new limits are, what is legal and what legal drugs could still land them in difficulty.
- Despite the risks of unintentionally breaking the law, 78% believed that the new measures are a positive step.
- Only 4% believed that the new drug driving laws are going too far.
The new law sets upper limits which should not be exceeded for eight recreational drugs commonly associated with illegal use in the UK, including cannabis and cocaine.
There were also eight prescription drugs that were included within the new law, as follows:
However, the limits that have been set for these drugs exceed normal prescribed doses, meaning 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.
Road Safety Minister, Robert Goodwill, explained:”This new law will save lives. We know driving under the influence of drugs is extremely dangerous; it devastates families and ruins lives.
“The Government’s message is clear – if you take drugs and drive, you are endangering yourself and others and you risk losing your licence and a conviction.
“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.
Campaigners are advising drivers who are taking prescribed medication at high doses to carry evidence with them, such as prescriptions slips, when driving in order to provide evidence should they be asked to take a test by the police.