As expected, the Queen’s Speech included plans for legislation to make drug driving a specific offence – but the IAM and ABD have both urged that the new law is used to detect impairment rather than simply prosecute drug users.
Currently police have to show that driving had been impaired by drugs in order to prosecute, but under the new law it will automatically be an offence to drive with certain controlled drugs in your body in excess of specified limits. The government believes the law change will make it easier to prosecute.
The proposed law is to be included in the Crime, Communications and Court Bill. Offenders could face a jail term and fine of up to £5,000 as well as an automatic driving ban of at least 12 months.
Police will use a hand-held drug detection devices, which will take a saliva sample, as well as a breathalyser. The Home Office is expected to approve the devices by the end of this year. The exact drugs covered by the offence and the specified limits for each will be decided following advice from the expert panel and public consultation.
David Cameron, prime minister, said: "We want to do for drug-driving what drink-driving laws have done for driving under the influence of alcohol. That’s why we’re doing what we can to get drugalysers rolled out more quickly."
Mike Penning, road safety minister, said: "Drug-drivers are a deadly menace – they must be stopped and that is exactly what I intend to do. The new offence sends out a clear message that if you drive whilst under the influence of drugs you will not get away with it. This measure will help to rid our roads of the irresponsible minority who would risk the lives of innocent motorists and pedestrians."
Simon Best, IAM chief executive, said: “While we support the introduction of the drugalyser test and this offence, it needs to be backed up by some measure of impairment. Without this, the test could simply catch people who have used drugs at some point, but are not necessarily still impaired by them.
“Impairment as the key factor is also essential in tackling drivers who may have used over the counter or prescription drugs, which while legal, can have an equal impact on driving ability as illegal ones.”
The Association of British Drivers (ABD) urged similar caution. Brian Gregory, ABD chairman, said: “Like it or not, drug use is widespread amongst the younger population.
“Unlike alcohol, some drugs show up in ‘drugalyser’ tests many days after any effect has worn off.
“Whilst the irresponsible must be punished, safeguards must be put in place to ensure that what could be significant numbers of people who have acted responsibly, by not driving while under the influence of drugs, are not unfairly punished by traffic laws. Any action against such individuals should use legislation on possession or use.”