Drug Driving: ‘The New Offence’
In general terms, it is illegal to drive if either:
- You're unfit to do so because you're on legal or illegal drugs
- You have certain levels of illegal drugs in your blood - 'The New Offence.'
Prior to March 2015, the only way the police could arrest a driver of a vehicle they suspected of driving under the influence of drugs was if there was some evidence of the driver being unfit or impaired. This was usually done by the arresting officer carrying out some form test (a 'field impairment test'), such asking the driver to walk in straight line or touching his nose with his finger. If the driver failed that initial test, there would then be a further assessment at the police station, usually by a doctor.
Nowadays, there does not have to be evidence of physical impairment for the police to arrest a driver. A driver can be arrested for drug driving simply by having too much of a particular drug or drugs in your system, even there is absolutely no evidence of impairment.
So if the Police stop a driver that they suspect could have drugs in their system, they can carry out a roadside test which involves a mouth swab being take. The test is designed to detect the presence of drugs in the system which might be over new illegal limits, and predominantly focuses on the presence of cocaine and cannabis.
Once an arrest has taken place, the suspect will have his or blood taken at the police station, usually by a registered nurse. If the results show a level of drug which exceeds the amount fixed by law, it is automatically assumed that the driver was impaired and a charge will usually follow.
It is possible to be guilty of drug driving if you are taking cocaine or cannabis or any of the following:
- Amphetamine, eg Dexamphetamine or Selegline
- Morhine or Opiate and Opiate based drugs eg, Codeine, Tramadol
Although you can drive whilst having these drugs in your system, you can only do so if-
- You've been prescribed them by your GP and you have followed that advice on how to take them
- The drugs are not causing you to be unfit to drive even if you're above the specified limit
It is therefore important to seek immediate legal advice.
There have been a number of prosecutions for this new offence since the law came in to effect. Wells Burcombe criminal defence have defended many such cases.
Prosecutions are not always straightforward and it is always sensible to seek legal advice. It is important to discuss the findings of the blood test with a solicitor who can help interpret them. Drugs such as Morphine, Diazepam, Methadone and many more are on the banned list but are all commonly prescribed by GP's and so a driver may have a defence.
The penalties for this offence are the same as drink driving and often result in a period of disqualification, although depending on the circumstances, it may be possible to argue that a disqualification should not be imposed. Financial penalties can also be imposed.