Drugs and Driving - What is the Law?
Solicitor David Staniforth discusses the law relating to Drug Driving.
We all know that drink driving is a serious offence and are pretty clear on where the law stands. If you get caught over the limit you are likely to face a ban from driving.
But most people are unclear on the law in relation to drug driving. This is because drug driving can mean a number of different things; does it mean illegal drugs or over the counter prescription drugs? And how exactly can the Police detect whether you have taken drugs?
Here, David Staniforth, Solicitor at Norrie Waite & Slater outlines the current laws on drug driving.
Drug driving is defined as when someone gets behind the wheel of a vehicle under the influence of any substance (illegal or legal) which is likely to impair their driving ability.
Testing for drugs
Unlike alcohol breathalysers, there is no scientific test that can be carried out by Police at the roadside to determine the level of drugs in your system. This is because there is no legal limit for the use of drugs. There are many different types of drugs, from prescription drugs to illegal substances, which affect people’s ability to drive in different ways. Each person will be affected differently by the drugs they have taken, much in the same way that people have varying tolerances to alcohol. To secure a conviction the Police need to show that the driver is impaired.
If the Police think that your driving is impaired by drug use they will carry out a field impairment test. The test involves being asked to close your eyes and touch your nose or to stand on each foot alternately for 30 seconds whilst counting aloud. They may also check your pupils for unusual dilation which could be caused by the use of certain drugs.
These tests are used to determine whether the Police think you are unfit to drive a vehicle. If you fail these tests you may be taken to the Police station to undergo further biological tests such as blood or urine samples.
It is an offence to refuse to participate in any of these tests, either at the roadside or at the Police station. If you do refuse then you may be charged with failure to provide a specimen.
Failure to provide a specimen
If you fail to provide a specimen, either at the roadside or at a police station, you can be charged with failure to provide a specimen.
Sentences for failure to provide a specimen are now broadly similar to those for drink or drug driving. The minimum disqualification is 12 months with magistrates having discretion to give a ban of 18-24 months unless successful mitigation can be shown.
A possible defence against this charge is if you can show a ‘reasonable excuse’ for not providing a specimen. This could be a medical reason such as breathing difficulties, which hinder you from completing a breathalyser test. It may also be a phobia of needles, which prevents you from giving a blood sample at the police station.
Another issue which could lead to a possible defence is when the police officer has not given the required warning that failure to provide a specimen could result in criminal prosecution. Failure to follow this procedure may result in the refusal to provide a specimen being lawful.
You are not entitled to stall the giving of a specimen to police to speak to your lawyer and then advance a defence on that basis.
Penalties for drug driving
The penalties for drug driving are the same as for drink driving - a ban of 12 months or more and a fine of up to £5,000, or up to 6 months in jail.
If the person under the influence of drugs causes a fatal accident they could face a longer ban and up to 10 years in jail.
Defences for drug driving
Prosecutions for drug driving offences are restricted to those where Police can prove that an individual is incapable of driving because of drugs.
This can sometimes be argued due to the standard of driving involved, for example if someone under the influence of drugs caused a crash. However, in many cases it will revolve around a field impairment test and further biological tests carried out at the Police station. Several cases have been won by challenging the impairment test.
Strict procedures exist to ensure that the correct protocols are followed at all times by Police officers. Any deviation from these procedures can be a cause for challenge of the charges.
It may also be possible to question the evidence of a forensic scientist because of the differing effects that drugs have on each individual. They have to present evidence based on whether the readings of drug levels in a person’s body would normally cause a person to be impaired. This will obviously vary from person to person and can therefore be argued. This does not need to be challenged as there is no set limit for drug consumption at the present time.
If you have been charged with driving whilst unfit because of drug use you will need specialist representation from an experienced solicitor.
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