A new offence of driving whilst under the influence of certain drugs, or drug-driving, comes into force today, 2nd March 2015 with an update to Rule 96 of the Highway Code.

With as many as 200 drug-driving related deaths each year on British roads, current research indicates that as many as one in ten young male drivers have driven under the influence of cannabis, whilst 370,000 young male drivers have driven under the influence of class A drugs.

The new drug-drive law will be administered by police in much the same way as the more familiar drink-drive laws, using roadside ‘drugalysers’ to indicate the presence of drugs in the blood stream beyond the legal limit.

There will no longer be the need to prove that the offenders driving was impaired prior to prosecution.

Limits have been set for the presence of eight illegal drugs including

  • ecstasy
  • LSD
  • ketamine
  • heroin
  • cocaine
  • and cannabis.

New limits have also been set for driving whilst over the prescribed limit for nine medicinal drugs

  • amphetamine 250µg/L
  • morphine 80µg/L
  • methadone 500µg/L
  • clonazepam 50µg/L
  • diazepam 550µg/L
  • flunitrazepam 300µg/L
  • lorazepam 100µg/L
  • oxazepam 300µg/L
  • and temazepam 1,000µg/L.

Advances in technology mean that the police will be able to use roadside ‘drugalysers’ to assess levels of drugs in the body as and from today. Officers will be able to carry out urine tests if necessary back at the police station even if the driver passes the roadside checks.

People on prescription drugs within recommended amounts will not be penalised. However, it has been recommended that proof of using the specific legal drug, such as the container, should be kept in the car in case of being stopped by police.

The new drug-drive law carries with it a maximum prison sentence of up to six months, with a £5000 fine and a minimum 12 month driving ban, and ushers in a new “zero tolerance” approach to driving whilst under the influence of drugs.

The new Highway Code wording now reads that:

  • You MUST NOT drive under the influence of drugs or medicine. For medicines, check with your doctor or pharmacist and do not drive if you are advised that you may be impaired.
  • You MUST NOT drive if you have illegal drugs or certain medicines in your blood above specified limits. It is highly dangerous so never take illegal drugs if you intend to drive; the effects are unpredictable, but can be even more severe than alcohol and result in fatal or serious road crashes. Illegal drugs have been specified at very low levels so even small amounts of use could be above the specified limits. The limits for certain medicines have been specified at higher levels, above the levels generally found in the blood of patients who have taken normal therapeutic doses. If you are found to have a concentration of a drug above its specified limit in your blood because you have been prescribed or legitimately supplied a particularly high dose of medicine, then you can raise a statutory medical defence, provided your driving was not impaired by the medicine you are taking.

Laws RTA 1988 sect 4 & Law RTA 1988 sect 5A

Rule 96 used to say:

  • You MUST NOT drive under the influence of drugs or medicine. Check the instructions or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Using illegal drugs is highly dangerous. Never take them if you intend to drive; the effects are unpredictable, but can be even more severe than alcohol and may result in fatal or serious road crashes.

Law RTA 1988 sect 4

 Sarah Sillars, CEO of safety group the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) said: “The new law is a real step in the right direction for the eradication of driving under the influence of drugs. IAM has always stated there should be no doubt to drivers and riders as to what the correct course of action should be; no-one should be driving while under the influence of alcohol or any illegal drugs in your system.

We also urge drivers and riders not to forget how prescription drugs can affect your ability to control a vehicle. Don’t ignore the instructions and think you know better.”

It will be interesting to observe the statistics emerging as a result of the new drug-driving rule given that driving impairment is no longer a legal requirement to prosecute. Will a particular type of driver be more likely to face successful prosecution?

It’s also interesting to note that the reaction of the Greater Manchester police to the new drug-driving rule.

“We have taken the decision, in GMP, not to make use of the legislation while we satisfy ourselves that the legal and procedural issues involved in prosecuting these cases can properly withstand legal scrutiny” said Ch Insp Mark Dexley.

“This will be a temporary delay whilst we ensure our equipment has the right certification and our officers have the right training and understand the required procedures. We are mindful that if we get this wrong then a significant amount of court time and public money could be wasted.”

As always, feel free to share your thoughts and comments below.

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