Motorists who get behind the wheel after taking illegal drugs face a criminal record, loss of their licence for at least a year and a fine of up to £5,000. The legislation makes it illegal to drive with certain drugs in the body above specified levels, including 8 illegal drugs and 8 prescription drugs. People using prescription drugs within recommended amounts will not be penalised.
Police forces will have access to new screening equipment to test suspected drug drivers. Officers can screen drivers for cannabis and cocaine at the roadside. They will be able to test for these and other drugs including ecstasy, LSD, ketamine and heroin at a police station, even if a driver passes the roadside check. New devices that can test for a greater number of drugs at the roadside will be developed in the future.
This new law, coupled with the testing kits, will make it quicker to identify those driving under the influence of drugs and help the prosecution of drug drivers. It remains an offence to drive when impaired by any drug, including medical drugs.
Road Safety Minister Robert Goodwill said:
"This new law will save lives. We know driving under the influence of drugs is extremely dangerous; it devastates families and ruins lives.
The government’s message is clear - if you take drugs and drive, you are endangering yourself and others and you risk losing your licence and a conviction."
The law covers use of 8 drugs commonly associated with medicinal use, that are sometimes abused, that have been set at higher limits based on the available evidence of the road safety risk and to reflect their use as medicines.
- Morphine used to treat pain – opiate/opioid based medication will metabolise (chemically change) into morphine and show in a blood result
- Temazepam used to treat anxiety or inability to sleep
- Methadone used to treat drug addiction
Amphetamine used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Parkinson’s disease is also planned to be included within the offence shortly, subject to Parliamentary approval.
New research conducted by THINK! reveals that 1 in 5 (20%) of those surveyed know someone who has driven after taking illegal drugs. Almost half of those surveyed (49%) said that as a passenger, they would not feel comfortable asking a driver if they were under the influence of illegal drugs.
Of those who admitted to driving under the influence of illegal drugs, 55% said they did so because they felt safe to drive and 60% revealed they had previously driven a car when they were unsure if they were still under the influence of illegal drugs.
Dr Kim Wolff, Reader in Addiction Science at King’s College London and an advisor for the government drug drive policy, said:
"It is worrying to note that so many drug drivers said they felt safe to drive after taking illegal drugs. Illegal drugs seriously impair skills required to drive safely, such as reaction time and decision making. In many cases those who take certain illegal drugs believe that they are safe to drive, but are in fact putting themselves and others at risk. Greater awareness of the dangers of drug driving is important as we move forward with this important step towards safer roads."
To support the legislation change, THINK! is launching a new awareness campaign on radio, online and in pub and club washrooms. Following the change in the law, THINK! advises:
Drugs can affect driving in numerous ways, ranging from slower reaction times, erratic and aggressive behaviour, an inability to concentrate properly, nausea, hallucinations, panic attacks, paranoia, tremors (or ‘the shakes’) to dizziness and fatigue. Getting behind the wheel in such a condition is dangerous for the driver, their passengers and other road users.
If a person has taken illegal drugs they should not endanger others by driving.
Taking a mixture of drugs to ‘sharpen up’ doesn’t work – in fact, combining drugs can have dramatic and unpredictable effects on a user’s state and ability to drive.
Don’t accept a lift from a driver you know or think may have taken drugs.
Some medicines that are sometimes abused are also included in the new law. However, if you are taking medicines as directed and your driving is not impaired, then you are not breaking the law. To find out more, ask your doctor or a member of the pharmacy team.
Drugs and driving: the law
It’s 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 (even if they haven’t affected your driving)
Legal drugs are prescription or over-the-counter medicines. If you’re taking them and not sure if you should drive, talk to your doctor, pharmacist or healthcare professional.
The police can stop you and make you do a ‘field impairment assessment’ if they think you’re on drugs. This is a series of tests, eg asking you to walk in a straight line. They can also use a roadside drug kit to screen for cannabis and cocaine.
If they think you’re unfit to drive because of taking drugs, you’ll be arrested and will have to take a blood or urine test at a police station.
You could be charged with a crime if the test shows you’ve taken drugs.
It’s illegal in England and Wales to drive with legal drugs in your body if it impairs your driving.
It’s an offence to drive if you have over the specified limits of certain drugs in your blood and you haven’t been prescribed them.
Talk to your doctor about whether you should drive if you’ve been prescribed any of the following drugs:
- Amphetamine, eg dexamphetamine or selegiline
- Morphine or opiate and opioid-based drugs, eg codeine, tramadol or fentanyl
You can drive after taking these drugs if:
- You’ve been prescribed them and followed advice on how to take them by a healthcare professional
- They aren’t causing you to be unfit to drive even if you’re above the specified limits
You could be prosecuted if you drive with certain levels of these drugs in your body and you haven’t been prescribed them.
The law doesn’t cover Northern Ireland and Scotland but you could still be arrested if you’re unfit to drive.
Penalties for drug driving
If you’re convicted of drug driving you’ll get:
- A minimum 1 year driving ban
- An unlimited fine
- Up to 6 months in prison
- A criminal record
Your driving licence will also show you’ve been convicted for drug driving. This will last for 11 years.
The penalty for causing death by dangerous driving under the influence of drugs is a prison sentence of up to 14 years.
Other problems you could face
A conviction for drug driving also means:
- Your car insurance costs will increase significantly
- If you drive for work, your employer will see your conviction on your licence
- You may have trouble travelling to countries like the USA
Read the full story on the GOV.UK website.