On 2 March 2015, changes to the offence of “drug driving” come into force in England and Wales. From 2 March it is illegal to drive with specified levels of certain drugs, including legal medication, in your system. 

It is an existing criminal offence, under section 4 Road Traffic Act 1988, to drive a motor vehicle whilst being unfit to do so as a result of drug consumption. However, under the new law, you may be guilty of an offence of drug driving even if your ability to drive is not impaired as a result of drug use.

Section 5A of the Road Traffic Act 1988, which comes into force from 2 March 2015 as inserted into the Road Traffic Act 1988 by the Crime and Courts Act 2013, contains the new offence of driving with concentration of specified controlled drug above specified limit. The Drug Driving (Specified Limits) (England and Wales) Regulations 2014 (the “Regulations”) specify those drug limits. It makes it an offence to have certain levels of traces of any of the specified drugs in your system, regardless of any potential effects they may have on your ability to drive.

The drugs specified in the Regulations consist of 8 legal medications, including diazepam, clonazepam and morphine, and 8 illegal drugs such as cannabis, cocaine and LSD.

It is a defence to a charge under Section 5A if you can prove that you were prescribed the drug for medical or dental purposes and the drugs were taken in accordance with any directions given by the person by whom the drug was prescribed or supplied.  It is advisable to check the instructions for drug use clearly with your doctor or dentist to ensure that you will not be exposed to any potential criminal liability. If you are driving whilst taking prescribed medication, it may be helpful to keep evidence of this on you in case you are stopped by the police.

The police have recently been given additional powers in advance of this new legislation. Police forces have been provided with new drug testing kits for use during road side checks of suspected drivers. These “drugalysers” involve a swab of saliva being taken from the inside of a driver’s cheek and indicates whether there are any traces of drugs found in the sample.

This new law signals the zero tolerance approach in the effort by the Government to target illegal drug use. The penalties for drug driving are higher than that for drink driving: if convicted of an offence under the new legislation, you will automatically be banned for driving for at least 1 year; you may receive a prison sentence of up to 1 year and/or a fine of up to £5,000.