Meredydd Hughes, ACPO lead on roads policing and Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police said:
“We know from our intelligence that drug use when driving is on the
increase and a significant number of serious injuries are caused by
drug driving and it is often young male drivers who are involved in
The law needs to be made much simpler, in that it should be made a
simple offence to take illegal drugs and drive on the road. At present
we have to test for the impairment of a driver suspected of taking
Impairment and the measurement of impairment is a complicated issue and
I believe we need to focus on a simple law because impairment is only
one of the measures of your ability to drive and other measures such as
attitude, judgement and education need to be taken into account.
What the Law says
Drug driving is the term used to
describe anyone who gets behind the wheel of a vehicle under the
influence of any substance (legal or illegal) that is likely to impair
their driving ability.
- It's an offence to drive a motor vehicle while under the influence of a controlled drug;
- Police officers have powers to undertake roadside drug tests on drivers.
The Law makes no distinction between illegal and prescribed drugs.
Driving under the influence of drugs carries the same penalties as drink driving
– a ban and a fine of up to £5,000 or up to six months in jail. If a
person under the influence of drugs causes a fatal accident, they could
face a two-year ban and a maximum of 10 years in jail.
The law does not state any legal limit for drugs as it does for alcohol. This is because knowledge of how different drugs
impair different people's driving ability is inconclusive. The extent
of harm resulting from driving under the influence of drugs continues
to be researched, although the current lack of a definite legal limit
for drug driving can complicate any possible further prosecution.
police officers suspect that you're driving under the influence of
drugs, they can stop you on the roadside and observe you for outward
signs of impairment caused by drug use. You'll probably be asked to
perform a field impairment test,
which involves testing your co-ordination skills. For example, you may
be asked to close your eyes and touch your nose (as certain drugs can
cause you to misjudge the position of your nose) or stand on alternate
feet for 30 seconds while counting aloud (certain drugs, particularly stimulants,
could cause you to count too fast or lose count altogether). The police
officer will also check your pupils for unusual dilation – opiates (such as heroin and methadone) cause very small, 'pin prick' pupils, while stimulants (such as cocaine, ecstasy or speed) cause very large, 'saucer' pupils.
to participate in the tests is an offence in the same way as failure to
provide a breath test under suspicion of drink driving.
Testing for the presence of drugs
police officers can only carry out roadside tests to judge impairment
caused by drug use, rather than to detect the presence of drugs in a
driver's body. A range of roadside testing devices to measure the
presence of drugs in the body are being piloted, but impairment testing
based on a standard biological test (such as the breathalyser test,
which is used to indicate whether a person has consumed enough alcohol
to impair their driving) is unlikely to be available for some time.
This is because there isn't enough evidence regarding the impairing
effects of drugs and their effects in different doses on different
individuals, and because the technology to assess this is isn't yet
If you're taken to the station
field impairment tests demonstrate that you may have been driving under
the influence of drugs, you could be arrested and taken to the police
station. Here, you may be tested for the presence of drugs through a
biological test (for example, by testing a sample of your blood or
urine). The police don't have to wait for you to sober up or resume
consciousness in order to do this. A doctor can also carry out a blood
test to see if you've been incapacitated due to medical reasons, such
as illness or intake of prescribed medicine.
law restricts prosecution to cases where police can prove that an
individual is incapable of driving because of drugs. However, this is
under review and police powers are likely to be toughened up following
pressure from major driving and road safety organisations.
Before you take to the wheel
affect the way you think and behave, and this can have a significant
impact on your sense of judgment and reaction times. We all know
drinking and driving don't mix, and alcohol is a drug like any other.
So be smart about drug driving, and think before you get behind the
wheel or accept a lift from someone you know isn't in a state to drive.
Remember, possession of illegal drugs
is an offence – you'll be landed with a heavy penalty (including a fine
and/or prison sentence) for possession or intent to supply.
Always read the label if you're taking prescribed medication. Antihistamines (often used in flu and hayfever remedies) and tranquillisers
(used to treat anxiety, depression and sleeping disorders) may
significantly affect reaction times and/or cause drowsiness. If the
label advises against 'operating heavy machinery', consider it a
warning not to get behind the wheel of a vehicle. If in doubt, consult
your doctor (GP).
Remember – The Law makes no distinction between illegal and prescribed drugs.
This is one case where I believe that the ACPO has a valid case in requesting that the law be more defined.
The Current Legal Position
present a police officer may stop any person driving a motor vehicle on
the road, but the breath-testing powers are more specific. A police
officer can require a test only if they have reasonable cause to
suspect that the person has alcohol in their body, or have reasonable cause to suspect that the person is under the influence of drugs, or has committed a
moving traffic offence, or has been involved in an accident. Case law
has established that it is lawful for a police officer to stop a
vehicle at random and form a suspicion of drinking on the basis of the
subsequent interview with the driver, (Chief Constable of Gwent v Dash,
current powers do not permit random or blanket enforcement. In most EU
countries the police are entitled to use random breath testing, the
only exceptions being Denmark, UK and Ireland.