Is drug driving a criminal offence?
While roadside tests for drugs are still in their infancy, the Police and prosecutors take drug driving as seriously as drink driving. Whether you’re on prescribed medication or banned substances, if you’re caught driving while impaired, the consequences can be serious. The offence is committed once the specified limit of any of the 17 specified controlled drugs is exceeded.
Drug driving charges
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What is the law on drug driving?
Many people think that driving while under the influence of drugs is less serious than driving with excess alcohol. The fact is that drug driving is just as dangerous as drink driving; in some cases even more so.
That’s why the Police and courts are now cracking down hard on drug drivers. If caught driving under the influence of drugs, you could be disqualified from driving for a minimum of 12 months, an unlimited fine and/or six months in prison if found guilty.
What are drug driving offences?
Drug driving offences are not limited simply to illegal drugs. It’s also against the law to drive whilst under the influence of high levels of many legal medications used to treat pain, coughs, hay fever, anxiety and insomnia: including medications such as diazepam, clonazepam, oxazepam and temazepam.
There are many prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications that impair your ability to drive safely as they not only cause drowsiness, they’re also proven to affect the coordination, vision, reaction times and concentration that are so vital to driving safely.
It’s essential for you to talk to your doctor or pharmacist - and read the label of any prescription drugs you take - before assuming that you’ll be safe to drive a vehicle on the public highway.
Having said that, is meant to target people who abuse prescription drugs and take illegal drugs: not to punish those with chronic health conditions. If you take prescription drugs for a health condition, then in addition to watching the dose you take, you might want to keep your doctor’s note on your person whilst driving, just in case.
Even so, if the proportion of drugs in your body exceeds the limit specified for that drug under the law when you’re tested, you could be found guilty of a drug driving offence.
Some of the most common prescription drugs and their associated limits for driving are as follows:
- Clonazepam, 50 µg/L
- Diazepam, 550 µg/L
- Flunitrazepam, 300 µg/L
- Lorazepam, 100 µg/L
- Methadone, 500 µg/L
- Morphine, 80 µg/L
- Oxazepam, 300 µg/L
- Temazepam, 1000 µg/L
If you’re in any doubt about your dosage, consult your doctor or pharmacist; and if you’ve been stopped by the Police and have tested positively for these or any other drugs, you should seek legal advice immediately. Call us on , or and we’ll call you.
Can the Police detect illegal drugs in my system?
Yes, it’s now possible for the Police to detect illegal drugs such as heroin and ketamine by blood tests, in the same way as they can detect the presence of prescription drugs. It’s also important to appreciate that drugs such as cocaine and cannabis can now be detected by roadside saliva testing kits, commonly known as ‘drugalysers’.
Yet while ‘drugalysers’ can detect some illegal drugs, it’s fair to say that the law on sentencing drivers under the influence of cannabis is still in its infancy. The drug driving law on cannabis is actually similar to drink driving law, in the sense that a swab test is taken by the roadside before the driver is taken to the police station for a blood sample, which is taken as an ‘evidential test’, if the roadside saliva test has been positive.
Arguably, the science behind testing motorists for driving under the influence of cannabis is relatively weak. The limit is 2µg of Delta-9-tetrahydrocannibinol, or THC, which is the active compound found in cannabis, per 100ml of blood. Two µg is a low level, such that you might not be feeling or demonstrating any outward signs of intoxication from cannabis, and yet still register a blood test result far exceeding this limit.
However, the prosecution doesn’t have to prove that your driving was impaired by cannabis, only that the drug was in your blood. This makes driving after smoking cannabis a substantial risk, with the potential for a 12-month driving ban, a £5,000 fine and up to six months in prison.
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