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15/01/19 08:00

New drug driving laws and roadside testing to improve road safety

Zero tolerance for people caught driving with illegal drugs in their system.

Scotland’s stringent road safety laws will be strengthened further by the introduction of drug driving limits and roadside testing on 21 October this year. 

There will be a zero tolerance approach to eight drugs most associated with illegal use, including cannabis, heroin and cocaine, with limits set at a level where any claims of accidental exposure can be ruled out. 

Meanwhile, a list of other drugs associated with medical use will have limits based on impairment and risk to road safety. 

This will make it easier to hold drug drivers to account as there will no longer be a requirement to prove that someone was driving in an impaired manner. 

Regulations laid in the Scottish Parliament, subject to MSPs’ approval, will permit prosecutions where different drug types are found to be above specified levels. 

Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service have been making preparations and are on track for implementation in October. 

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: 

“The introduction of drug driving limits will strengthen the power of Scotland’s police and prosecutors to tackle the minority of drivers who irresponsibly put themselves and other road-users at risk. 

“Drug driving is completely unacceptable, and we will continue to use all of the tools at our disposal to prevent the avoidable deaths and damage caused by those who drive under the influence of drugs. 

“Together with our stringent drink-driving limits, these new laws will ensure that Scotland has the UK’s most robust laws against impaired and unsafe driving.” 

Chief Inspector Stephen Innes of Police Scotland said:  

“Police Scotland is committed to reducing road casualties, and tackling drink and drug driving is a key focus of our activity. The devastating impact of drug driving on victims, communities and users themselves cannot be understated. 

“This new legislation will significantly enhance our ability to detect and deter motorists engaging in this extremely risky driving behaviour. 

“We are currently working closely with key partners and plans are well advanced to deliver this new legislation in October this year.” 

Background 

The drugs which will have a zero tolerance limit are benzoylecgonine; cocaine; delta–9–tetrahydrocannabinol (cannabis and cannabinol); ketamine; lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD); methylamphetamine; methylenedioxymethaphetamine (MDMA – ecstasy); and 6-monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM – heroin and diamorphine).

The drugs with medical uses which will have limits based on impairment are clonazepam; diazepam; flunitrazepam; lorazepam; methadone; morphine; oxazepam; and temazepam. 

A separate approach will be taken to amphetamine, balancing its legitimate use for medical purposes against its abuse. 

Any person taking medication in line with the prescription they have can claim the medical defence to the new offence.  However, they can still be prosecuted under the existing impairment offence.  If the prescription indicates that they should not drive while taking the medication then they are unable to claim the medical defence.

Existing law makes it an offence to be in charge of a motor vehicle while unfit to drive through drink or drugs, with the penalties – reserved to Westminster – being a minimum 12-month driving ban, up to six months in prison and a fine of up to £5,000. The new offence of driving while above specified drug limits will operate alongside the current offence and carry with it the same maximum penalties. 

Currently, when police suspect drug driving, they can carry out the roadside field impairment test. If the individual fails the test this provides sufficient evidence to arrest and take the driver to a police station for further tests. A doctor must certify that the person is, in their opinion, impaired to the extent that they are unfit to drive. 

However, there are currently no prescribed limits for controlled drugs. The UK Government introduced provision in the Crime and Courts Act 2013 which made it an offence to drive under the influence of different drug types when over a specified limit. The ability to provide specified limits for drugs is devolved, and so it has been for Scottish Ministers to decide whether there should be specified limits and, if so, what level these should be and for what drug types.