New drug-drive law ‘rushed through too quickly’ says expert

New drug-testing machines means police can carry out tests at the roadside
New drug-testing machines means police can carry out tests at the roadside

A Mansfield-based expert claims the new law introduced this week to clampdown on those getting behind the wheel after taking drugs had been implemented too early and could end up with innocent people in the dock.

Steve Williams, of Forrest Williams Legal on Hamilton Way, said: “Police have brought this in way too early and should have waited until technology was ready. It’s not as simple as the police are suggesting.”

Police crackdown on drug drivers

Police crackdown on drug drivers

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He said the only way to test for many of these substances was via a blood test - which would end up costing the force a lot of money.

“Drink driving can be checked with urine, but many drugs can’t. So blood tests will cost the force a lot of money. And if it can’t be proven then they can’t be charged,” he added.

There is a danger people will be faced with court proceedings when the drugs they have taken were legally prescribed

He also said residents could be arrested for taking prescription drugs.

Mr Williams added: “People taking prescription could end up being arrested for this and falling foul of the new laws.

“There is a danger people will be faced with court proceedings when the drugs they have taken were legally prescribed.”

He said a number of drugs on the list are prescribed for things such as anxiety, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy. He said; “It is argued that it is safer to have people driving whilst on this medication than encourage them to drive without medication.

“There is a defence that will allow drivers to show that they were taking the drugs as prescribed.

“The onus will be upon drivers to prove they were prescribed the drugs and were using them as directed. It is worrying that a lot of people with no previous contact with the law will be brought into the criminal justice system and forced to defend themselves simply because they have taken prescription drugs.

“Not only will this cause considerable stress to many sick and vulnerable people but it will also potentially cost them a significant amount of money in legal fees.”

But leading road safety charity the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) has described the introduction of new drug-driving laws as ‘a big step forward for road safety.’

There will be a new offence of driving while over the prescribed limit of certain drugs as of Monday. For the first time ever limits have been set for illegal drugs including heroin, cocaine, LSD and cannabis as well as a number of medicinal drugs including morphine and methadone.

The new procedure will bring detection of drug driving into line with the widely understood drink driving enforcement procedure. Police will no longer need to prove that driving was impaired. They will simply obtain a blood sample and show that any of the specified drugs are present above the prescribed limit.

Roadside drugalysers (or an impairment test) can be used in the first instance to test drivers - all this is broadly similar to the way drink/driving processes have operated in the past.

The IAM added that in the case of prescribed and over-the-counter medication users should read the accompanying information very carefully, to see if the prescribed dosage will impair your ability to control your vehicle.

Estimates suggest as many as 200 drug driving related deaths occur every year in the British Isles. Surveys suggest that one in ten young male drivers have driven under the influence of cannabis, and 370,000 have driven under the influence of class A drugs (1).

Sarah Sillars, IAM chief executive officer, said: “The new law is a real step in the right direction for the eradication of driving under the influence of drugs. The IAM has always stated there should be no doubt to drivers and riders as to what the correct course of action should be; no-one should be driving while under the influence of alcohol or any illegal drugs in your system.

“Many drugs impair the senses to a massive degree – if you are not in full control of your vehicle, you become a severe danger to yourself, your passengers and other road users. It is a self-centred action and those committing it are now being punished with the full force of the law. Now at last, there is a real deterrent.”

She added: “We also urge drivers and riders not to forget how prescription drugs can affect your ability to control a vehicle. Don’t ignore the instructions and think you know better.”