Drug driving – the new law and the penalties

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It’s been a few weeks since the new legislation to tackle drug driving kicked in – so what has changed?

What are the new drug driving laws?

Up until the new legislation took effect on March 2, motorists could only be prosecuted for driving under the influence of drugs if the police could prove it was impairing their ability to drive.

And because it was difficult for the police to test for drugs, this meant offending motorists could slip through the net.

But the laws on drug driving have now been brought into line with drink driving laws and offender can now be prosecuted for having certain levels off drugs in their system, even if it’s not affecting their driving ability.

So police can now stop anyone they believe to be driving under the influence of drugs and do a ‘field impairment assessment’ – a series of tests to see if a motorist is fit to drive, including tasks such as walking in a straight line. They can also use a roadside drug kit to test for cannabis and cocaine.

Motorists deemed unfit to drive because of taking drugs will be arrested and will have a blood or urine test taken and charged if the results come back positive.

What are the penalties?

Any driver convicted of drug driving will face a minimum one year driving ban, an unlimited fine and licence endorsements that will last for 11 years.

They could also face up to six months in prison and get a criminal record.

If a driver kills someone having taken drugs, the penalty for causing death by dangerous driving while under the influence is a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

And it’s not just illegal drugs that are covered under the new drug driving laws…

What drugs are included in the new laws?

The new drug driving laws set limits for eight illegal drugs, they are:

● Cannabis
● BZE (metabolite of cocaine)
● Heroin
● LSD
● Cocaine
● Ecstasy
● Ketamine
● Methylamphetamine.

It also includes some prescription medicines, but the limits on these are higher as the law only wants to catch drivers abusing the medicines. The prescription medicines included are:

● Morphine
● Diazepam
● Clonazepam
● Flunitrazepam
● Lorazepam
● Oxazepam
● Temazepam
● Methadone.

How can drivers make sure they stay on the right side of the law?

The simplest way to avoid falling foul of the new drug driving laws is to just not take them, but for motorists on medication this is obviously not an option.

So any motorists who are on prescribed medication and may be at risk under the new laws are advised to talk to their doctor or pharmacist for information about how their medication may impair their driving ability.

And those who are taking medication at a high dosage are advised to carry evidence such as prescription slips to minimise any hassle if they’re asked to take a test by the police.

The government has also said there will be a medical defence for any drivers found to be over the limit but not impaired, having taken medication as prescribed.

For more details on the new drug driving legislation, see the government’s Think! website here.

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