Following the legislation change in March 2015, police are now more widely using drug swabs that can detect drivers under the influence of drugs by the roadside.
Drivers impaired by drugs are responsible for up to 200 deaths a year in Britain.
Most police forces are finding about 50 per cent of motorists stopped are testing positive. By comparison, just 5 per cent of those stopped for suspected drink-driving last year failed the breathalyser test.
It is illegal to drive if your driving is impaired by drugs or if you have certain drugs above a specified level in your blood. If the police stop you and think you’re on drugs they will either test you at the roadside using a drug screening device or a “Field Impairment” test to assess your ability to drive.
If drugs are detected in your system or you are deemed impaired by drugs, you’ll be arrested and taken to a police station for blood or urine tests. If the tests show you’ve taken drugs or show a specified drug above the specified blood limits you could be charged with drug driving.
The law doesn’t cover Northern Ireland and Scotland but you could still be arrested if you’re unfit to drive.
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.
Drug driving law
It is now an offence to drive with certain drugs above a specified level in your blood – just as it is with drink driving. Seventeen legal and illegal drugs are covered by the law, including cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy and ketamine.
The limits for all illegal drugs are extremely low – taking even a very small amount of an illegal drug could put you over the limit.
The new offence will work alongside the existing offence of driving whilst impaired through drink or drugs
The penalties for drug driving are the same as for drink driving. If you are convicted you will receive:
- A minimum 12-month driving ban
- A criminal record
- A hefty fine or up to 6 months in prison or both
The consequences of a drug drive conviction are far reaching and can include:
- Job loss
- Loss of independence
- The shame of having a criminal record
- Increase in car insurance costs
- Trouble getting in to countries like the USA
How drugs impair driving
Driving under the influence of drugs is extremely dangerous and can affect driving skills in a number of ways.
Cannabis users often think they are safer when they are under the influence because they drive more slowly. However, cannabis slows reaction and decision times. It can also distort perception of time and distance, and result in poorer concentration and control of the vehicle.
Cocaine leads to a sense of over-confidence and this is reflected in the user’s driving style. Users typically perform higher risk, more aggressive manoeuvres at greater speeds.
Ecstasy (MDMA) is extremely dangerous to drive on because it results in distorted vision, heightened perception of sounds, altered perception and judgment of risks and an over-confident driving attitude.
During the phase whilst the effects of any illegal drugs are wearing off the user may feel fatigued, affecting concentration levels.
Driving in any of these conditions is a bad idea – not just for the driver but for their passengers and other road users.
If you take illegal drugs, plan how to get home without driving as the Government is cracking down on drug drivers.
Consider your options and make plans by saving a taxi number to your phone, having a designated driver, or finding out about options for public transport before you go out.
Some legal medication might affect your ability to drive safely.
Do not drive if you feel drowsy, dizzy, unable to concentrate or make decisions, or if you have blurred or double vision. Check with your doctor or pharmacy team if you think you are affected.
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 has taken drugs – if in doubt, get out!