In March 2015, Parliament will enact a new law to make driving with a specified amount of certain drugs in your body an offence. It is already an offence to drive whilst unfit through drink or drugs but, up until now, there has been no specific offence of driving with a specified amount of a drug in one’s body matching the specific offence of driving with more than the prescribed limit of alcohol.
Under this new legislation, a person will be guilty of an offence if the proportion of the drug in his blood or urine exceeds the specified limit for that particular drug. The new offence will carry six months imprisonment or a £5,000 fine, or both, together with a mandatory disqualification for 12 months. In other words, the new offence will exactly mirror the current offence for driving with excess alcohol.
Although it has been illegal to drive whilst unfit either through drink or drugs, such prosecutions were rare because they were much more difficult to prove and, accordingly, many people drove with drugs in their system. In 2011, it was estimated that impairment by drugs was a contributory factor in more than 1,000 road traffic accidents which resulted in injury or death.
Before now, it has been considered too difficult to provide screening equipment to test whether any individual had drugs above a specified limit but this technological difficulty has now been overcome. In truth, this difficulty was overcome some time ago and this new law in Britain will simply bring us in to line with most other modern jurisdictions.
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 himself of this defence however, any driver must show that the drug was taken in accordance with any directions given by the prescriber and with any accompanying instructions given by the manufacturer of the drug.
It is clear then that there is likely to be a substantial number of cases where a person has above the prescribed limit of a particular drug in their system but is able to avail themselves of the defence, provided they have followed the advice given to them concerning consumption of the drug.
It is likely that the law in this area will draw heavily upon the huge body of law in relation to driving with excess alcohol but this new defence opens up a new challenge.