On Monday 2nd March 2015 new laws came into force which will significantly enhance the state’s powers to investigate and prosecute ‘drug driving’. From our experience police have rarely prosecuted for the existing offence of being unfit to drive through drugs.
Now police can arrest people on suspicion of this offence and, after taking a blood or urine sample, will test for a number of illicit and prescribed drugs. Each drug has a prescribed limit expressed as micrograms per litre. If a suspect exceeds the limit they will be prosecuted under the new offence, without reference to the quality of their driving. In this respect the law mirrors the current regime for alcohol.
Among the list of substances which can be detected some are to be expected; cannabis, cocaine, opiates and MDMA for example. Of note however are drugs that one might expect to be prescribed by medical practitioners such as Diazepam, methadone or Lorazepam.
There are a number of requirements that the police must abide by before a prosecution can succeed and anybody suspected of this offence is advised to seek legal advice as soon as it is made available to them by the police. There are special defences for those who have taken prescribed medication. It is advisable to keep any written advice on the administration of the medication safe. This might be provided by a doctor or the drug manufacturer. Adherence to such advice may well establish a defence to the charge.
The penalties for this offence are again similar to drink-drive offences. If you were shown to be driving you face a mandatory minimum disqualification of 12 months unless special reasons can be established. If you are alleged to have been ‘in charge’ of the vehicle instead of driving then disqualification is not mandatory but if it is not imposed you will receive 10 penalty points. For both offences the maximum term of imprisonment is 6 months.