Remarkably, there is currently no specific law in the United Kingdom that prohibits a person from driving while under the influence of controlled drugs. This will soon change, however, as the UK Government has confirmed plans to create a specific drug driving offence.
Currently, police have to demonstrate that a person’s driving had been impaired by drugs in order to prosecute. Their methods for proving impairment involve the use of low-tech road-side sobriety tests such as walking along a straight line. If a person passes these tests, the likelihood is that they’ll get off without a charge.
Under the proposed new legislation, which will be unveiled in the Queen’s Speech, it will become an offence to drive a motor vehicle if you have certain controlled drugs in your body in excess of specified limits, which can be tested for using screening devices. Those found guilty of going beyond these limits and taking to the road will be prosecuted.
The laws won’t come into effect until 2014. Devices to screen for drugs in the body are expected to be type approved by the Home Office at the end of 2012, although they won’t be used until the laws come into effect two years later. Devices for testing for drug use at the roadside are expected to be type approved by 2014 to coincide with the introduction of the new law.
At the time of writing, the Government has not yet decided which specific drugs will be considered out of bounds for drivers. Nor has it decided what quantity of these drugs a person has to ingest before he or she is considered to be over the limit. The exact drugs covered by the offence and the specified limits for each will be determined following advice from an expert panel of scientists and a public consultation.
“Drug drivers are a deadly menace,” said Road Safety Minister Mike Penning. “They must be stopped and that is exactly what I intend to do. The new offence sends out a clear message that if you drive whilst under the influence of drugs you will not get away with it. We have an enviable record on road safety in this country and I want to keep it that way. This measure will help to rid our roads of the irresponsible minority who risk the lives of innocent motorists and pedestrians.”
The penalty for the new offence will be a maximum of 6 months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £5,000, and an automatic driving ban of at least 12 years.