A new offence of “drug driving” is currently under review prior to coming into force later in the summer. At present driving whilst under the influence of drugs is an offence under the Road Traffic Act 1988 however; there is no defined limit of drug use as there is for say alcohol.
Section 56 and Schedule 22 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 will for the first time introduce a new offence of driving while over the prescribed drug limit. The new offence, unlike the existing one, will not require proof of impairment. All that will need to be shown is that a drug was taken, the same as the current law for drink driving.
Currently alcohol related offences involve the use of preliminary testing via a breathalyser. The police do presently have the power to conduct roadside drug tests however no equivalent equipment had been made available to them in the past in dealing with drug related offending. The Home Office have been developing a type approval specification for a drug screening device, namely a “drugalyser,” which will help the police in roadside drug detection. As of late January 2014, 11 police forces across England and Wales started using drug testing kits, namely saliva testing equipment which is designed specifically to detect cannabis. This is just one example of the steps taken in advance of the offence coming into force.
The new drug driving offence will also make provision for the taking of preliminary tests to determine the level of drugs in a person’s blood or urine. Further drug testing devices at the police station will remove the need for the police to seek a medical assessment of any suspect before requiring a blood or urine sample for laboratory analysis. A maximum of 3 preliminary tests will be allowed. It is the result of the laboratory analysis which will then be used in any prosecution. Failure to provide the samples without a reasonable excuse is an offence under section 6 of the 1988 Act.
A separate set of regulations will cover the drugs, which fall under this offence and the specified limits for each. The new offence will not cover most standard medication but will cover controlled drugs under the Misue of Drugs Act 1971 and pertain further to the abuse of prescription drugs. There will be a specific defence related to the controlled drugs covered by this offence, this will cover controlled drugs taken in accordance with medical advice. If you take medication however you will need to generally check with your doctor or pharmacist whether the medication is suitable for driving.
As stated previously it is already an offence to drive whilst impaired by alcohol (or drugs) under section 4 of the 1988 Act and this offence will remain in place alongside the new offence. If the driver’s sample results do not produce detection within the regulations but there are other drugs present and evidence of impaired driving, a driver may be dealt with under the existing section 4 offence.
So what would a driver convicted of the new offence be facing in terms of any potential sentence?
The maximum penalty for the new offence is up to 6 months imprisonment and / or a fine of up to £5,000.00 in England and Wales. The offence also carries a disqualification for at least 12 months. In cases where a person is being accused of being in charge of a motor vehicle with a specified controlled drug in their body above the specified limit, the maximum penalty will be 3 months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £2,500.00. The person may also be disqualified from driving or receive 10 penalty points on their licence.