Government unveils ‘zero tolerance’ approach drug driving

12.00 | 9 July 2013 | | 6 comments

Plans to make it easier to prosecute people who drive under the influence of illegal drugs have been published today (9 July) by Stephen Hammond, road safety minister.

In January 2012 the government announced that it would be introducing a new offence of driving with a specific controlled drug in the body above the specified limit for that drug. The consultation published today puts forward proposals on the drugs to be included in the legislation and the limits to be specified.

The proposals follow a report published in March this year by a panel of medical and scientific experts which provided advice to the government on drug driving.

The new offence is designed to reduce the wasted time, expense and effort involved for the police and the courts when prosecutions fail because of the difficulty of proving that a driver is impaired by a particular drug.

Stephen Hammond said: "Drug driving is a menace which devastates families and ruins lives. That is why we are proposing to take a zero tolerance approach with those who drive under the influence of illegal drugs, and are sending a clear message that this behaviour will not be tolerated.

"We have also put forward our proposals for dealing with drivers who use specific prescribed drugs. We know that the vast majority of people who use these drugs are doing so responsibly and safely and that is why our approach does not unduly penalise drivers who have taken properly prescribed medicines.

"Together, these proposals will make our roads safer for everyone by making it easier for the police to tackle those who drive after taking illegal drugs and clarifying the position for those who take medication."

In considering what approach to propose for each illegal drug and what limit to set, the Government has weighed up a number of factors including the evidence about the use of the drug when driving, wider drugs policy, and the findings and recommendations from its expert panel.

After considering all of the above the Government is proposing a ‘ zero tolerance’ approach to the following eight controlled drugs: Cannabis, MDMA (Ecstasy), Cocaine, Ketamine, Benzoylecgonine (primary metabolite of cocaine), Methamphetamine, Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) and 6-monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM – heroin and diamorphine). There is one further controlled drug, amphetamine, which has some medical use in specific circumstances but is also often taken illegally, which the government proposes to include in the regulations.

In addition, the government proposes to set limits for eight controlled drugs that have recognised and widespread medical uses but which can also affect a patient’s ability to drive.

David Bizley, RAC technical director, said: "We welcome the government’s move to bring increasing levels of clarity to driving on illegal drugs and prescription medication, something that is very much needed.

"We all know that driving under the influence of drugs is extremely dangerous and wrecks lives – but it is also a growing problem, particularly among young motorists.

"Therefore, it is more important than ever to inform and educate, otherwise we are allowing people to drive without regular reminders about the dangers of drug driving and how impaired senses can lead to serious injuries and fatalities.

"Motorists will be happy to see the government taking a lead on this and ensuring people understand their position – and what happens if they step over the line."

In taking a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to these drugs, the Government proposes to set the limits at a level that does not catch someone who has consumed a very small amount of an illegal drug inadvertently.

While the draft regulations proposed are in relation to England and Wales, the consultation on the approach to the different policy options has been extended to Scotland.

The consultation
closes on 17 September 2013.

Click here to read the full DfT news release.


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    Dave has hit the nail on the head here. There needs to be more roads traffic police trained on the Field Impairement Test. Yes it is not definitive, but it will allow the police to arrest a suspect and allow a doctor to take a blood sample. This would then be definitive as to what the person has in their system. Through road safety education in schools, we provide information on the dangers and concequences of taking illegal/legal drugs so they can make informed decesions in the future. I feel education and enforcement are key to this subject, the young people who are going to be the drivers of the future need to be aware of the risk they pose whilst driving impaired.

    Rob – Calderdale
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    Just need some roads policing officers to actually enforce it now. Fighting back against the cynics – nice sentiment, shame there’s no actual name there. Would be a shame to see this website degenerate down to a forum where people hide behind aliases rather than stand up and put their case with reason and data. Keep some decorum eh?

    Dave, Still in Leeds
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    There are so many illegal substances out there with new ones constantly being developed that this is an incredibly difficult challenge. Developing reliable testing equipment that can be used to identify the substances and provide results at the roadside is what is needed but it is complex.

    I think this is a good starting point – no doubt there will be further developments but they have to start somewhere and I am pleased that at last this issue is starting to be addressed in a practical, enforceable way. Education is so much more effective when it is backed up with credible enforcement.

    Honor Byford, Vice Chair Road Safety GB
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    Stuart makes a good point. There are thousands more drugs that might affect driving (eg simple glue sniffing) than there is parliamentary time to debate and create the laws needed to combat them. The effect of these new proposals may just be to encourage citizens to choose different, less well understood drugs.

    Just considering cannabis, there are perhaps 4 million regular cannabis users in the UK plus millions more occasional users, and cannabis remains in the system a long time, perhaps weeks. Some research has suggested cannabis impairs driving, other research has suggested it causes paranoia which results in over-cautious (safer) driving.

    Millions might be caught in these new proposals therefore, to come to an informed opinion, we need a lot more evidence, we need to know the details and we need to know how it will be enforced.

    Dave Finney, Slough
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    What no cries of “penalising the poor motorist”, “we need random controlled trials to show impairment” and it’s all just a “conspiracy theory that drugs impair driving” and we need to “fight back with facts”. Or perhaps for once can we just accept that this piece of law enforcement may, just may, save someone from being involved in a crash?

    Fighting back against the cynics
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    I am a little confused? Hopefully someone can enlighten me about the other illegal drugs on the market that don’t contain any of the 8 covered by the list. I am sure that all the illegal substances available to those who chose to abuse them are not all cut with the same 8 chemical compounds that make up the rest that are available. If that is the case then does it not leave a door wide open to anyone driving on a 9th or 10th drug? If anyone can clarify I would be most grateful.

    Stuart Rochdale
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

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