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New Drug Driving Law to Come into Force

View profile for Michael Pace
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The anti-drink drive laws came into being in the early 1970s while I was a member of the Nottinghamshire Constabulary. In those early days we used what looked like test tubes filled with crystals which changed colour if mixed with breath containing alcohol. They were not very reliable and if they changed to red a person was arrested and taken to the police station to give blood or urine.

The crystals were replaced with a more accurate machine at the police station and as long as the reading was over a certain level, blood or urine was no longer required.

During those early days many loopholes were developed on behalf of desperate drivers willing to pay to save their licence.

The procedures adopted were tightened by the police and better training put into place, resulting in a closing off of almost all technical loop holes.

These days there are even more accurate machines used at the side of the road and at police stations. In the very near future it is expected that only the roadside test will be necessary.

The legal limit is a reading of 35 microgrammes per 100 millilitres of breath. It is unusual though for the police to prosecute for any reading under 40 microgrammes.

For the moment the police are still reliant on the police station test in order to prosecute. The closing down of police stations around the county means though that if a driver blows a reading at the roadside of just over 40 microgrammes and is some 30 minutes or so from a police station, then by the time he or she has reached a police station they are often under the limit. Because of this I suspect that some police officers are letting people go if they are just over 40 microgrammes in order to save the journey time to a distant police station only to have to let the driver go.

Whilst it has been possible to measure the amount of alcohol a person has drunk, there has always been a problem catching and proving that drivers are under the influence of a drug. This was because of the lack of reliable testing equipment.

Well, the time has come for those drivers. Now there are blood tests which can be done to give an accurate level of intoxicant. Testing equipment has been developed and levels set for different drugs and from 2nd March 2015 a new offence of ‘drug driving’ will come into being pursuant to the Drug Driving (Specified Limits) (England and Wales) Regulations 2014 which will create an offence under s.5A of The Road Traffic Act 1988.

Sentencing guidelines will follow and are likely to mirror those for drink driving. A minimum disqualification of 12 months will be the starting penalty with a fine and costs on top.

The levels are (micrograms per litre of blood):

Benzoylecgonine                                                         50

Clonezapam                                                                50

Cocaine                                                                      10

Delta-9-Tetrahdrocannabinol                                           2

Diazepam                                                                 550

Ketamine                                                                   20

Lorazepam                                                               100

Lysergic Acid Diethylamide                                           1

Methadone                                                               500

Methylamphetamine                                                   10

Methylenedioxymethamphetamine                               10

6-Monoacetylmorphine                                                 5

Morphine                                                                   80

Oxazepam                                                               300

Temazapam                                                           1000

Some of these drugs are prescribed for certain conditions and they therefore come with a warning as to overuse. Medical guidance will be needed if you are prescribed one of them before driving.

No doubt in the short term the law will once again be tested and will take a little time to bed in before clear legal advice can be given to drivers who are being prosecuted.