Plans to make it easier to prosecute those who drive under the influence of illegal drugs have been published today (9 July 2013) by Roads Minister Stephen Hammond.
In January 2012 the government announced that it would be introducing a new offence of driving with a specific controlled drug in the body above the specified limit for that drug. The consultation published today (9 July 2013) puts forward proposals on the drugs to be included in the legislation and the limits to be specified. The proposals follow a report published in March this year by a panel of medical and scientific experts which provided advice to the government on drug driving.
The new offence will reduce the wasted time, expense and effort involved for the police and the courts when prosecutions fail because of the difficulty of proving that a driver is impaired by a particular drug.
Stephen Hammond said:
Drug driving is a menace which devastates families and ruins lives. That is why we are proposing to take a zero tolerance approach with those who drive under the influence of illegal drugs and sending a clear message that this behaviour will not be tolerated.
We have also put forward our proposals for dealing with drivers who use specific prescribed drugs. We know that the vast majority of people who use these drugs are doing so responsibly and safely and that is why our approach does not unduly penalise drivers who have taken properly prescribed medicines.
Together, these proposals will make our roads safer for everyone by making it easier for the police to tackle those who drive after taking illegal drugs and clarifying the position for those who take medication.
RAC technical director David Bizley said:
We welcome the government’s move to bring increasing levels of clarity to driving on illegal drugs and prescription medication, something that is very much needed.
We all know that driving under the influence of drugs is extremely dangerous and wrecks lives – but it is also a growing problem, particularly among young motorists.
Therefore, it is more important than ever to inform and educate, otherwise we are allowing people to drive without regular reminders about the dangers of drug driving and how impaired senses can lead to serious injuries and fatalities.
Motorists will be happy to see the government taking a lead on this and ensuring people understand their position – and what happens if they step over the line.
In taking a zero tolerance approach to these drugs, the government proposes to set the limits at a level that does not catch someone who has consumed a very small amount of an illegal drug inadvertently. In considering what approach to propose for each illegal drug and what limit to set, the government has weighed up a number of factors including the evidence about the use of the drug when driving, wider drugs policy, and the findings and recommendations from the Expert Panel.
After considering all of the above the government proposes a zero tolerance approach to the following 8 controlled drugs which are known to impair driving:
- MDMA (Ecstasy)
- Benzoylecgonine (primary metabolite of cocaine)
- Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD)
- 6-monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM - heroin and diamorphine)
In addition to the eight illegal drugs listed above, the government proposes to set limits for eight controlled drugs that have recognised and widespread medical uses but which can also affect a patient’s ability to drive. The limits proposed follow the recommendations of the Expert Panel, which in the vast majority of cases, will avoid the new offence catching out drivers who have taken properly prescribed or supplied drugs in accordance with the directions of a healthcare professional or the drug manufacturer. This will avoid inconveniencing the public and taking up police time.
There is one further controlled drug, amphetamine, which has some medical use in specific circumstances but is also often taken illegally and which the government proposes to include in the regulations. The consultation seeks views on what a suitable limit might be for amphetamine.
While the draft regulations proposed are in relation to England and Wales, the consultation on the approach to the different policy options has been extended to Scotland.
The consultation starts today (9 July 2013) and closes on 17 September 2013.
Notes to editors
The Review of drink and drug driving law by Sir Peter North, published in June 2010, concluded that there was “a significant drug driving problem” with an estimated 200 drug driving-related deaths a year in Great Britain. Drug driving remains a primary concern for the public and that is why the government included in a Bill in May 2012 a new offence of driving with a specified controlled drug in the body above the specified limit for that drug. The Bill, which is now the Crime and Courts Act 2013 received Royal Assent on 25 April 2013.
Section 56 of the Crime and Courts Act inserted a new section 5A into the Road Traffic Act 1988. Section 5A(8)(a) includes a regulation-making power, exercisable by the Secretary of State in relation to England and Wales and by Scottish Ministers in relation to Scotland, to specify the controlled drugs to be covered by the new offence and the corresponding limit for each.
The Expert Panel’s report is available.