3 March 2015

New law raises awareness of drug driving

A new law to make it easier for police to catch and convict drug drivers has taken effect in England and Wales.

Brighton & Hove motorists who get behind the wheel after taking illegal drugs face a criminal record, loss of their licence for at least a year and a fine of up to £5,000. The legislation makes it illegal to drive with certain drugs in the body above specified levels, including eight illegal drugs and eight prescription drugs. People using prescription drugs within recommended amounts will not be penalized.

Police forces will have access to new screening equipment to test suspected drug drivers. Officers can screen drivers for cannabis and cocaine at the roadside. They will be able to test for these and other drugs including ecstasy, LSD, ketamine and heroin at a police station, even if a driver passes the roadside check. New devices that can test for a greater number of drugs at the roadside will be developed in the future.

Phil Henty from Sussex Safer Roads Partnership said; “The new roadside equipment will save the police huge amounts of time and effort, and will help to make the roads of Brighton & Hove safer for all.”

The new law, coupled with the testing kits, will make it quicker to identify those driving under the influence of drugs and help the prosecution of drug drivers. It remains an offence to drive when impaired by any drug, including medical drugs.  

To support the legislation change and the national campaign to raise awareness, Brighton & Hove City Council’s road safety team will be working with local venues to make sure the message gets out to younger drivers and passengers, which research shows are more likely to be affected by or consider driving under the influence of illegal drugs.

Councillor Ian Davey, Brighton & Hove’s lead councillor for transport, said: “Driving under the influence of drugs can have devastating consequences.  The council is playing its part in helping to spread the road safety message that some drugs can impair driving and you could be putting yourself and others in danger.”

The council’s public health team is also working with GP surgeries and pharmacies across the city to ensure health professionals can advise patients on particular forms of medication.

The law includes eight drugs commonly associated with medicinal use that have been set at higher limits based on the available evidence of the road safety risk and to reflect their use as medicines. Listed medications include: morphine used to treat pain – opiate/opioid based medication will metabolise (chemically change) into morphine and show in a blood result; diazepam, clonazepam, flunitrazepam, lorazepam, oxazepam, temazepam used to treat anxiety or inability to sleep; and methadone used to treat drug addiction.


Background

New research conducted by THINK! reveals some people are still confused over drug driving. Almost half of those surveyed (49%) said that as a passenger, they would not feel comfortable asking a driver if they were under the influence of illegal drugs.

Of those who admitted to driving under the influence of illegal drugs, 55% said they did so because they felt safe to drive and 60% revealed they had previously driven a car when they were unsure if they were still under the influence of illegal drugs.

Dr Kim Wolf, Reader in Addiction Science at King’s College London and an adviser for the Government drug drive policy, said: “It is worrying to note that so many drug drivers said they felt safe to drive after taking illegal drugs. Illegal drugs seriously impair skills required to drive safely, such as reaction time and decision making. In many cases those who take certain illegal drugs believe that they are safe to drive, but are in fact putting themselves and others at risk. Greater awareness of the dangers of drug driving is important as we move forward with this important step towards safer roads.”

To support the legislation change, THINK! is launching a new awareness campaign on radio, online and in pub and club washrooms. Following the change in the law, THINK! advises:

  • Drugs can affect driving in numerous ways, ranging from slower reaction times, erratic and aggressive behaviour, an inability to concentrate properly, nausea, hallucinations, panic attacks, paranoia, tremors (or ‘the shakes’) to dizziness and fatigue. Getting behind the wheel in such a condition is dangerous for the driver, their passengers and other road users
  • If a person has taken illegal drugs they should not endanger others by driving
  • Taking a mixture of drugs to ‘sharpen up’ doesn’t work – in fact, combining drugs can have dramatic and unpredictable effects on a user’s state and ability to drive
  • Don’t accept a lift from a driver you know or think may have taken drugs
  • Some medicines that are sometimes abused are also included in the new law. However, if you are taking medicines as directed and your driving is not impaired, then you are not breaking the law. To find out more, ask your doctor or a member of the pharmacy team

Watch the video

Visit http://think.direct.gov.uk/ for further information on the new law