From 2nd March 2015, abusers of prescription medication, and users of illegal drugs can now be prosecuted if they drive with excessive levels of a relevant substance in their system without the need for the Prosecution to prove any level of impairment to driving.
But what are the limits?
Whilst the limits for prescription medication have been set relatively high, the limits for illegal substances have been set extremely low.
The specified limits “per litre of blood” for all substances to be included in the new offence are as follows:
- Benzoylecgonine (a cocaine metabolite) 50
- Clonazepam 50
- Cocaine 10
- Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (cannabis) 2
- Diazepam 550
- Flunitrazepam 300
- Ketamine 20
- Lorazepam 100
- Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) 1
- Methadone 500
- Methylamphetamine 10
- Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)10
- 6-Monoacetylmorphine (Heroin) 5
- Morphine 80
- Oxazepam 300
- Temazepam 1000
The amount of substance required to reach the above limits would depend on a number of external factors, including a person’s height, weight, and metabolic rate. As with drink driving, one person’s body may absorb a drug differently to another person’s body.
It is also important to remember that drugs typically remain in a person’s system much longer than alcohol. Anyone who has taken an illegal substance should carefully consider the possibility of the drug remaining detectable in their blood after the effects of the drug have worn off.
How long do illegal drugs remain in a person’s system?
The length of time which is required for a drug to leave a person’s system varies considerably in accordance with the type and amount of the drug taken, how it has been taken, the individual characteristics of the person who has taken it, and whether the drug has been mixed with any other substance, such as alcohol.
The government has avoided providing guidance about the typical detection times for the drugs which are covered by the new drug driving offence.
Whilst bodily absorption rates differ from person to person, it is possible to suggest rough timelines for how long drugs typically remain detectable in a person’s system.
Of the illegal dugs covered by the offence, the typical number of days that a drug will remain in a person’s system is as follows:
- Cannabis: 2 – 3 days for one off use (potentially up to two months for chronic users)
- Cocaine : 12 hours – 3 days
- MDMA: 1 – 4 days
- Heroin: 2 – 5 days
- Ketamine: 2 – 4 days
- LSD: 1 – 3 days
- Crystal Meth: 1 – 4 days
Which drugs can be detected at the roadside?
Currently, the only drugs which are capable of detection at the roadside are Cocaine and Cannabis. These substances can be picked up on a mobile drugalizer device which works by analysing saliva. The results appear within around 8 minutes. A positive result at the roadside will lead to a person being taken to a police station and required to provide an evidential blood sample. It will be the police station blood sample which motorists will be prosecuted on the basis of rather than the initial indication provided by the roadside device.
How will the other drugs be detected?
Until more comprehensive roadside testing devices are granted “type approval”, it is likely that the police will continue to rely on impairment tests to detect the presence of drugs in a person’s system at the roadside. These tests include:
- The Romberg test: which tests balance and judgement
- The walk and turn test
- The standing on one leg test
- The finger to nose test
- The pupil measure test: assessing the size of the pupils
Failing a field impalement test will result in a motorist being taken to the police station and asked to provide a blood sample. Whilst under these circumstances the police will probably arrest the person for the traditional offence of driving whilst unfit through drugs, the presence of a relevant drug in a person’s system above the specified limit will most likely result in the motorist being charged and prosecuted for the new law of driving with a relevant drug over the specified limit in their system. This is because it is deemed easier to secure a conviction under the new offence since it is not necessary for the Prosecution to find a causal link between the presence of a substance and any impairment on driving.
Prescription drugs- the medical defence
Those who take any of the prescription medications covered by the offence should speak to their GP or pharmacist if they are concerned about the level of drug which they have been prescribed. The limits for legal drugs have been set within or above normal therapeutic doses; therefore most patients need not be concerned. Those who are taking higher than usual doses would have a medical defence available to them if the medication has been personally prescribed to them, they have taken the medication in accordance with prescribing instructions, and they have adhered to any restrictions concerning the length of time that they are required to refrain from driving after taking their medication. We would advise those taking higher than average doses of relevant medicines carry with them evidence of the prescribing instructions given to them by their health care professional. This will speed up investigations into their medical defence. Users of prescription medication should also consult their GP if they are considering taking over-the-counter medication to supplement their prescription to find out whether the additional medicine could put them over the limit.
If your driving licence has been put in jeopardy by any motoring offence such as drink driving, drug driving, failure to provide a specimen or totting up you can call our free advice line anytime on 0333 323 1830 for specialist advice and representation which could save your licence. .detection times, drug driving law, illegal drugs, medical defence, prescription medication, specified limits