Don’t take the high road

by Jeremy Sirrell

Although it has always been illegal to drive while under the influence of drugs, prosecutions were rare because they were much more difficult to prove than drink-driving offences.

Before now, it had been considered too difficult to provide screening equipment to test whether an individual had drugs above a specified limit but this technological difficulty has now been overcome.

New laws introduced on 2 March specify exact limits for 16 different illegal and prescription drugs, bringing the legislation in line with drink-driving laws and bringing Britain in line with most other modern jurisdictions.

Police will now be able to conduct roadside saliva tests, as well as impairment checks, to detect cannabis and cocaine. Blood tests will be taken for other substances including LSD, ecstasy, heroin and prescription drugs. Drivers using prescribed drugs within recommended amounts will not be penalised.

The new law, although attempting to mirror almost exactly the position in relation to driving with excess alcohol, does have an additional complication; namely that there will be a defence to show that the specified drug had been prescribed by a suitably qualified practitioner. In order to avail themselves of this defence, any driver must show that the drug was taken in accordance with directions given by the prescriber.

When issued, penalties will be similar to those for drink-driving and could include a criminal record, a minimum of a 12-month driving ban and a fine of up to £5,000. The law also covers the use of drugs commonly associated with medicinal use that are sometimes abused and include:

  • Amphetamine
  • Ketamine
  • Clonazepam
  • Lorazepam
  • Diamorphine
  • Methadone
  • Diazepam
  • Morphine 
  • Nabiximols
  • Temazepam

These substances, usually prescribed by medics to relieve pain and anxiety, as well as for treating illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, typically cause side effects such as drowsiness, lack of concentration and slow reactions.

The Road Traffic Department at Palmers Solicitors can provide specialist advice and representation, with the aim of defending and preserving an individual’s licence, wherever possible. We can provide advice on all types of motoring offences such as careless or dangerous driving, driving document offences, driving licence endorsements and disqualifications, speeding and speed cameras and using a mobile phone while driving. We are also able to advise businesses about offences relating specifically to commercial vehicles, including those relating to tachograph and drivers’ hours regulations, excess weight and operator’s licences.

For more information, please contact me at JSirrell@palmerslaw.co.uk or on 01245 322111.