Just over a month has passed since the introduction of the Drug Driving (Specified Limits) (Scotland) Regulations 2019, which came into force on 21 October 2019 and introduced a new road traffic offence regarding drug driving to Scotland.
Ahead of the introduction, Police Scotland unveiled its new roadside drug detection kit which will be used by officers to detect drugs using a simple mouth swab. Police will carry out roadside drug tests for any motorist they suspect of drug driving, or who has been involved in an accident or stopped for a traffic offence.
These changes could have implications for all, not only those who take illegal drugs, but how much do you know about the new law?
The new law – what does it say?
While most drivers know it is illegal to drive while under the influence of illicit drugs, what many people are not aware of is that they could now be committing an offence if they drive while under the influence of legitimately prescribed medical drugs.
Previously, those driving under the influence of drugs could have been prosecuted under s 4 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 for “driving while impaired through drugs”. The new regulations create an offence where a person drives or attempts to drive a vehicle when the drug in that person’s blood or urine “exceeds the specified limit for that drug.”
The regulations set out specified limits for 17 controlled drugs, including commonly occurring illegal drugs such as cocaine and cannabis, and other legitimately prescribed medical drugs. The drugs which have a near-zero limit (zero tolerance limit) are cocaine, cannabis, ketamine, LSD, MDMA, ecstasy, heroin and diamorphine.
The medically prescribed drugs which have limits set in line with a road safety risk-based approach are clonazepam, diazepam, flunitrazepam, lorazepam, methadone, morphine, oxazepam and temazepam.
Any person taking medication which has been properly prescribed to them and in line with the dosage prescribed can claim a medical defence to the new offence. However, you can still be prosecuted under the existing offence of driving while impaired if you are demonstrating impairment. If your prescription indicates that you should not drive while taking the medication, then you are unable to claim the medical defence.
The penalties for the new offence are a minimum 12-month driving ban, up to six months in prison and a fine of up to £5,000.
So, what does this mean for drivers?
With a lack of public awareness campaigning to run alongside the introduction of the new offence, drivers who have been legitimately prescribed medical drugs could find themselves potentially liable for prosecution if they fail to comply with the relevant limits, instructions on the packaging of the drug or advice from their GP.
Criminal defence solicitor Dominic Kearney commented on the introduction of the new law: “The limits are what’s measured in your blood and not how much you think you can safely take or, in the case of medically prescribed drugs, what has been prescribed to you. It’s important to remember the amount of the drug in your system can be affected by factors such as your age, weight, and how your body tolerates the drug and that some drugs can stay in your blood for several days after you take them. It’s impossible to say what dose of any drug will put you over the limits or how safe it is to drive after taking it, but you’re likely to test positive and face prosecution if you take even a small amount of illegal drugs or drugs not prescribed to you. The best approach is not to get behind the wheel if you’ve taken any illegal drugs, and to ensure you read the information leaflet given to you with any prescribed drugs before you drive.”