This legislation has been in the making for many years; but now that it’s here what does it actually mean for drivers?
Understanding the new drug drive law – Unlike the breath test for alcohol, new equipment for the detection of drugs while driving is still limited. There are two approved devices. One is likely to be used only in the police station, whereas the second device can be used anywhere i.e. at the roadside, in a hospital or at the police station. Both of these devices are approved to detect Cannabis, but the portable device has also been approved to detect Cocaine. In the fulness of time these devices will be approved to detect other specified drugs, but the approval process is still in train.
Understanding the new drug drive law
From a practical point of view, the scenario for the detection of the drugged driver may go something like this:
When a driver is stopped and asked to provide a breath test, they may also be asked to provide a drug test.
If you fail either test you will be arrested, and for alcohol provide an evidential breath sample, and for drugs a blood sample. If both show in excess of the prescribed limit then you will be charged with the drink drive offence (Section 5) or the new drug drive offence (Section 5A)
If however, you pass both of these tests, but the officer still suspects that your ability to drive safely is for the time being impaired, then the officer may conduct a Field Impairment Test (refusal to cooperate is an offence). If you perform poorly in the test and show impairment to drive, you will be arrested, and provide a blood or urine sample. If the sample show drugs above the specified limit, or other impairing substances not specified, then you will be charged with the offence of driving while unfit (Section 4) for non-specified substances or the new Section 5A offence for drugs found above the specified limit.
Contrary to popular belief the Field Impairment Test will still be needed in the detection of the drug driver who is under suspicion of being impaired to drive whilst under the influence of a non-specified drug.
Understanding the new drug drive law. What are the Limits?
Sixteen drugs have been specified in the new legislation, and you may note from the table below that Amphetamines are not on the list. The reason for this is that because amphetamines are also used for medical reasons, further research is being carried out to determine the right prescribed limit. This will follow later in the year; hopefully.
(a metabolite of Cocaine)
MDMA – Ecstacy
As can be seen, eight of the specified drugs are currently illegal to possess while the other eight are prescribed by medical professionals. But let's be certain about one thing. There are many drugs which will impair your ability to drive a motor vehicle safely. And how many times do you ignore the warning 'DO NOT DRIVE OR OPERATE MACHINERY' on you medicine packet?
I agree that there is a need for medical professionals to provide more advice about the reaction to certain drugs and that they should tell you not to drive while taking them, but this only happens rarely. You should therefore take responsibility for the reaction these medicines may have on you, but if in doubt, ask your doctor or pharmacist.
In addition to being careful about your driving while under the specified prescription drugs, the law allows for what is called a 'statutory defence.' In other words if you can prove that your were taking your medication in accordance with the doctors prescription then you may be able to use that as part of your defence. Obviously this defence is not available if you have illegal drugs in your system!
These new laws will enhance the ability of the police service to detect these offences there is now doubt about that. But we still have a long way to go to reduce the number of drug drivers out there.
DRIVE STRAIGHT ON THE ROAD - DON'T DO DRUGS AND DRIVE
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