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Drug-driving law: Everything you need to know

The UK government is out to tackle the problem of driving under the influence of drugs with revisions to drug-driving law and a roadside drug test as part of its new ‘zero tolerance’ attitude.

We investigated exactly what has changed, when the law comes into play and whether the new measures really can save lives.

So what has changed?

The government is changing the drug-driving law to make it easier to ‘detect and prosecute drug drivers’. It will be an offence to be over a specified limit of eight legal and eight illegal drugs in England and Wales from the 2nd of March, 2015.

What is the roadside drug test?

It is a saliva test you undertake by the roadside if an officer suspects you of being under the influence of drugs, with a positive or negative result given after a few minutes.

What drugs can the spitalyser detect?

Cocaine and cannabis – although the manufacturer of the DrugWipe 3S kit supplied to police, Dtec International, says it will add testing for other drugs for the next batch of ‘spitalyser’ devices once screening levels have been approved by the government.

What about the Field Impairment Test?

Even if you pass the drug-driving breathalyser test, you could still be in trouble as officers have the power to conduct the good-old Field Impairment Test (FIT for short), which involves you proving you can function as a sober human being and not a drugged-up loon.

What if I pass that?

A police officer can still ask you for a blood test if he or she suspects you are under the influence, at which point you will be tested for eight legal and eight illegal drugs at a police station.

What are the illegal drug thresholds?

The illegal drugs tested for as part of the zero tolerance approach and their threshold limit in the blood are as follows: benzoylecgonine (50µg/L), cocaine (10µg/L), delta-9-tetrahydrocannibinol aka cannabis (2µg/L), ketamine (20µg/L), lysergic acid diethlyamide (1µg/L), methylamphetamine (10µg/L), MDMA (10 µg/L) and 6-monoacetylmorphine aka heroin (5µg/L).

Can I be done for legal drug use?

You can be prosecuted for driving while under the influence of medicinal drugs. The drugs tested and their threshold limit in the blood are as follows: clonazepam (50µg/L), diazepam (550µg/L), flunitrazepam (300µg/L), lorazepam (100µg/L), methadone (500µg/L), morphine (80µg/L), oxazepam (300µg/L) and temazepam (1,000 µg/L). An amphetamine used for treating ADHD and Parkinson’s is being considered for the list subject to Parliamentary approval.

Isn’t that a bit unfair?

The legal limits for medicinal drugs have been set to coincide with what is normally prescribed, meaning, you should be fine unless you decide to ignore the advice of doctor or the prescription. Even if you are within the prescribed limits, however, you can still get in trouble if your driving is impaired.

Why all the fuss?

People think getting in their car while high on cannabis or ketamine is a wise idea, much to the detriment of their own safety and others. While the number of drug-driver deaths is potentially lower than drink-driving, the government wants to stamp it out.

So just how many lives could be saved?

There were 31 deaths and 181 serious injuries caused as a result of drug-driving, according to government figures. Unofficial estimates suggest the number of deaths could, in fact, be as many as 200. 290 people died from drink-driving in 2012, in comparison.

Are drugs really that bad for drivers?

Besides the fact ketamine is used to knock out horses and other large animals? Research from Canada in 2011 found cannabis users were four times more likely to be involved in a serious crash. Another European study found those on multiple drugs were between five and 30 times more likely to be involved in a severe or fatal crash. Road safety charity Brake has outlined exactly what certain drugs can do to your system.

How long do drugs show up in my system?

Depends on the drug, but people in white coats assure us the thresholds are very, very low. As in, one spliff would send you over the limit. Class A drugs, meanwhile, will show up all-too easily, assuming you can mask the fact you might  think you are a lampshade while under the influence.

Who can I talk to if I am unsure whether I am fit to drive?

It is a good idea to speak to your doctor or pharmacist before you get behind the wheel if you think you might be unsafe to drive. If in doubt, go without driving until you know otherwise or risk being punished.

What is the punishment?

A convicted drug-driver can expect a minimum one-year driving ban, a fine of up to £5,000, up to a year in prison and a criminal record. Your drug-driving offence stays on your licence for 11 years. You are also likely to experience much higher car insurance costs, could lose your job and even struggle to visit countries like the USA. Causing death or injury is likely to result in a much harsher sentence.

Just how effective can roadside testing be?

Very effective if it can save 200 lives a year, although some would argue government time and money would be better spent tackling bigger problems like binge-drinking, young driver accidents and unhealthy living. There’s also the problem of policing such a law given that fewer bobbies are out on the beat.

What are the downsides?

It is unclear exactly how much money has been spent on policing drug-driving and just how effective it will be given the number of police already stretched thinly. There is also the fact a roadside test can only detect two drugs, meaning police will still have to drag suspects away from the scene to a police station if they suspect you’re mashed on something other than weed and coke.


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