The government has published plans to make it easier to prosecute people who drive under the influence of drugs. A new offence of ‘driving with a specified controlled drug in the body above the specified limit for that drug’ is to be introduced, designed to ‘reduce the wasted time, effort and expense’ of failed prosecutions.
The proposals are contained in a consultation document, which also looks at penalties for driving when impaired by certain prescribed drugs, although the government has stressed that drivers who had taken ‘properly prescribed’ medicines would not be penalised.
The consultation sets out a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to driving under the influence of cannabis, MDMA, cocaine, ketamine, LSD, methamphetamine, benzoylecgonine, heroin and diamorphine, with limits set at the ‘lowest level at which a valid and reliable analytical level can be obtained’ but designed to rule out ‘passive consumption’ or ‘accidental exposure’.
There will also be a limit for amphetamine, as yet to be confirmed, along with limits for eight controlled drugs that ‘have recognised and widespread medical uses’ but which can also affect the ability to drive, including methadone, morphine, temazepam and diazepam. Penalties will include an automatic driving ban of at least a year, as well as a maximum fine of £5,000 and potential custodial sentences.
Although police will not be able to conduct random tests, they will have the power to administer a preliminary drug test if someone has been in an accident, committed a traffic offence, or if the officer ‘suspects that a driver has a drug in his body or is under the influence of some drug’. Police will be allowed to administer up to three preliminary saliva tests, to be followed by arrest and the requirement for a blood test if positive.
‘Drug driving is a menace which devastates families and ruins lives,’ said roads minister Stephen Hammond. ‘That is why we are proposing to take a zero tolerance approach with those who drive under the influence of illegal drugs and sending a clear message that this behaviour will not be tolerated.’
The government has also launched a consultation on the prescription drug tramadol, saying that it wants to make it a class C drug while ensuring it remains ‘available to those who need it as a prescription medicine’. The announcement follows a recommendation by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) that the painkiller should be placed in Schedule 3 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations, which allows controlled substances to be prescribed and legally possessed.
The ACMD had expressed concern at the misuse of tramadol, with the number of deaths involving the drug nearly doubling – from 83 to 154 – between 2008 and 2011.
Drug driving consultation at www.gov.uk/government/consultations/drug-driving-proposed-regulations, until 17 September.
Tramadol consultation at www.gov.uk/government/consultations/scheduling-of-tramadol-and-exemptions-for-temazepam-prescriptions, until 11 October.