Everyone knows that drink driving, ie driving under the influence of too much alcohol, is a crime and that a conviction can have very serious consequences both in family life and at work.
The same is now applicable for the new offence of drug driving.
In London of the drivers stopped by the Metropolitan Police and tested 45% were found to be driving under the influence of drugs (legal or illegal). Other statistics show why drug driving is now a major issue. 400 drivers per month in the UK are now being arrested and prosecuted for drug driving, 80% of whom took cannabis. 200 deaths on the road each year have some connection with illegal drugs. 1 in 33 drivers admit to having driven under the influence of drugs in the past 12 months. Taking cannabis before driving doubles the risk of being involved in a fatal accident and is 4 times more likely that someone will be involved in a crash suffering serious injuries. But if you take a combination of drink and drugs before driving the risk of being involved in a fatal accident is 23 times more likely.
From 2nd March 2015 drug driving has been classified as a new criminal offence punishable by similar penalties to those for drink driving.
However you do not need to have used illegal drugs to be convicted of drug driving. You can also be prosecuted as well if you have taken too much of a legal over-the-counter purchased or prescribed drug.
Having too much or virtually any presence of any drug (particularly of the illegal kind) in your body at the time of being tested is enough for you to be considered under the influence whilst driving and therefore liable to conviction for drug driving. You do not need to have been involved in an accident or be regarded to have driven badly when tested by the police in order to be arrested and prosecuted.
Drugalysers, similar to breathalysers for alcohol testing, are now being used by the police to detect up to 14 banned and prescribed drugs. The obvious banned drugs that can be detected include cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy. However it is now recognised that other, normally considered, legal drugs can also affect performance when driving. Such drugs can include cough and cold medicines, anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, anti-depressants, sleeping pills and hayfever and allergy medication which can, for example, cause drowsiness or affect reaction times, co-ordination, concentration and vision.
The advice from the DVLA and Department for Transport is to be aware of what effect each drug one takes can have on one’s ability to drive. Drivers are now being strongly advised to read the information leaflets that accompany each drug prescribed to them or bought over-the-counter at a pharmacy etc. Equally if a driver is unsure then they are advised to consult with their doctor about whether they can drive legally without being influenced by the drug(s) they are taking.
The law is no longer about whether you are fit to drive but whether you have an illegal level of drugs in your body whilst driving.
The offence of drug driving can attract penalties of up to 6 months in prison, a ban from driving of up to 12 months and an unlimited fine. It will also be recorded and will stay on your driving licence for 11 years.
The practical effects of being convicted for drug driving can have serious consequences too eg losing one’s job and possibly house and family; motor insurance premiums rising steeply; and even having trouble travelling to some parts of the world eg USA.
The law allows for proof of a criminal conviction to be relied upon in evidence of a motorist’s negligence. This will usually but not necessarily always settle the issue of primary liability meaning the case can be proven against the other driver and compensation can be awarded to the injured party.
It should also be noted that where a passenger injured in an accident knew that a driver was driving under the influence of drugs then they could face a deduction of up to 25% in their compensation. 1 in 10 passengers when asked believe they have been a passenger in a vehicle driven by someone under the influence of drugs.