Driving under the influence of drugs

Driving under the influence of drugs

The law on drug driving has changed. From 2 March 2015 section 56 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 inserted a new section (section 5A Drugs and Driving) into the Road Traffic Act 1988 which created 2 new criminal offences.

There are some similarities between the drug driving and drink-driving regulations and the 2 offences are driving or been in charge of a vehicle whilst exceeding the legal limit of specified drugs.

There are 2 groups of drugs controlled by the legislation, all illegal drugs such as cannabis, heroin and cocaine but also a list of 17 prescription drugs. The legislation in respect of illegal drugs is drafted on the basis of a zero tolerance approach and the limits set are therefore extremely low. In that respect there is no correlation with the law as drafted on drink-driving. For prescription drugs the limits are set in a similar fashion to drink-driving in that the set limit attempts to reflect a level below which the drivers ability would not be impaired.

The sentencing for drug driving does not have the clarity of sentencing on drink-driving as there are no clear sentencing guidelines set down. For a defendant charged with drug driving this raises a clear difficulty as magistrates regularly need to be drawn back from looking at a driver who has twice the cannabis level in his system in the same way that they would when sentence someone with twice the legal limit of alcohol in their system. There is no correlation as the limit for cannabis was fixed on the zero tolerance principle, as opposed to an impairment principle for alcohol. Clearly in this situation you would benefit from legal representation to point this out to magistrates who may not necessarily be aware of this.

There is now a roadside test for some illegal drugs, cannabis and cocaine and should a driver fail that test they would be arrested and taken to a police station where a more thorough analysis can be undertaken usually by means of a blood test. The police do not need a positive roadside test to arrest, if they suspect that the drivers ability is impaired by drugs they can then be taken to the police station where they would be tested to check for the presence of any drugs within their system. It is of note that the police no longer need to obtain a positive roadside sample to justify an arrest for further testing.

If a driver is over the limit for illegal drugs then on the face of it an offence has been committed. There may be a defence to this and this would need to be discussed with the lawyer prior to attending court. For prescription drugs there may well be a defence if it can be shown that the drugs were taken in accordance with medical advice and that that advice was not inclusive of a condition not to drive. In a case involving over the counter medication it would be for the driver to show that the drug had been used in accordance with the instructions that came with the medication.

This is still a relatively new and developing area of traffic law and as indicated above the sentencing guidelines are still being developed. There is no equivalent to the drink driving course for drug driving, that course reduces a disqualification by 25% so far not available for this offence. This is clearly an area of law where you would benefit from being legally represented, if you are unfortunate enough to be charged with an offence of drug driving.

The sentence for drug driving is a minimum 12 month driving ban, the possibility of an unlimited fine, the possibility of up to 6 months in prison, a criminal record and an endorsement on your driving licence which would last for 11 years. There would also be a substantial impact on any future car insurance premium.

You should ask for legal advice as the issues are complex and the sentencing somewhat subjective.

If you have been charged with driving whilst unfit because of drug use contact us to speak to one of our specialist solicitors.

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