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Drug Driving Lawyers: huge increase in arrests since new legislation introduced in March 2015

Following the introduction of new legislation for drug driving offences in March 2015, our drug driving lawyers can confirm that there have been almost 8,000 arrests in the last year (March 2015 – April 2016) in England and Wales.

The number of arrests (based on statistics from 35 of the 43 forces) showed that 7,796 people were detained by the police for drug driving offences.

Under the old legislation, police had to show that a person’s driving was impaired by drugs in order to bring a prosecution.

However, under the new legislation, legal driving limits were set for a total of 17 illegal and prescription drugs. It therefore became an offence to drive after having drugs above a prescribed limit, regardless of driving ability.

The penalties for being found guilty of the new offence are a minimum 12 month disqualification from driving, up to six months in prison and an unlimited fine. In addition, the drug driving offence would result in the offender having a criminal record.

There have, over the last year, been regional variations in the numbers of people arrested for drug driving offences. The most arrests (1,636) were made by the Metropolitan Police, with 573 made by Manchester Police and 561 by Cheshire.

The new legislation covers eight illegal drugs (including cannabis and cocaine) and nine prescription drugs (listed below).

For those worried about the use of prescription drugs (i.e. morphine) for medical reasons and the possible effects, for them, of the new legislation, the intention is not to penalise people for the correct use of drugs (when taken as prescribed), but rather for them to take their doctor’s advice about whether they should drive whilst on certain medication.

Athol Johnston, a Professor of Clinical Pharmacology at Queen Mary University of London, was on the panel that advised the Department for Transport on drug driving limits.

“Of the 17 drugs on the list, over half of them are actually sedatives so they’ll have a very similar action to alcohol, they’ll make it more difficult for you to drive, you’ll lack attention,” he said.

“Then you’ve got the stimulants, they’ll really distract you from driving, you’re not paying attention, you don’t drive as well.

“Then you’ve got things like Ketamine and LSD, which frankly, if you take those, you don’t know what you’re doing, because you’re hallucinating, you may see things that aren’t there, and you won’t be able to control your car properly.”

Prescription drugs covered by the new law

  • Amphetamines (eg dexamphetamine or selegiline) are used for conditions including attention-deficit disorders
  • Clonazepam is prescribed to treat seizures or panic disorders
  • Diazepam is used for anxiety disorders, alcohol withdrawal symptoms or muscle spasms
  • Flunitrazepam (also known as Rohypnol) is a sedative originally used in hospitals for deep sedation in the 1970s
  • Lorazepam is used to treat convulsions or seizures caused by epilepsy
  • Oxazepam is used to relieve anxiety, including anxiety caused by alcohol withdrawal
  • Temazepam affects chemicals in the brain that may become unbalanced and cause insomnia problems
  • Methadone is used in the treatment of heroin addiction and for pain relief
  • Morphine or opiates treat moderate to severe pain

As the new legislation took effect in England and Wales, police forces were issued with roadside drug testing kits which allowed them to check if a person had taken cocaine or cannabis.  Our drug driving lawyers are seeing many cases of people accused of drug driving when procedural errors have been made.

The testing kit uses a mouth swab to check for the presence of drugs and a blue line appears after eight minutes if the person has taken them.

The kit only works for cocaine and cannabis. Drivers have to be taken to a police station for a blood test for other drugs.

Figures provided by some forces show the impact the new test is having.

South Yorkshire Police drug driving-related arrests went from 13 in the year until the test was introduced to 456 the following year – a 3,400% increase, according to a BBC Yorkshire Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

If you have been charged with a drug driving offence, or have already pleaded not guilty to a drug driving offence and need professional representation for a forthcoming trial, contact our drug driving lawyers today on 01623 397200 for free, initial advice.


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