For many years it has been illegal to drive whilst unfit through drink or drugs. However, unlike the well established offence of driving over the prescribed alcohol limit, there was no set benchmark confirming a requisite quantity of a particular drug that must be present within the bloodstream. That is of course until now.
The Drug Driving (Specified Limits) Regulations were made on 24 October 2014 and come into force on 2 March 2015. These regulations will coincide with existing legislation and specify maximum quantities of controlled drugs that can be present at the time of driving. The list includes; Cocaine, Morphine and Cannabis to name but a few.
The current system placed a heavy reliance on the effects of these drugs on a driver. It involved an assessment of a person’s fitness to drive as of course motorists will react differently to drugs, dependant on their individual physiology and tolerances.
It is not yet clear from the Regulations, how these quantities can be expressed in real terms that can be considered by a motorist. For example, how much cocaine could be used without exceeding the permissible limit? Similarly, could a motorist passively inhale sufficient cannabis to exceed the limit, owing to his presence with others who are using the drug?
Further issues may then arise considering the bodies retention of certain drugs. Is it feasible that recreational use of a drug over the weekend could render a motorist unable to drive the following week? The current system would consider the actual effect of the drug which may be non existent however; the new limits would create an absolute offence.
Concerns may also be expressed by those with long term medical needs. Morphine for example is primarily used for pain relief but is also one of the controlled drugs featured within the Regulations. A specific defence will be available for motorists taking drugs in accordance with directions from a medical professional. That is not to say however, that they could avoid prosecution under the existing laws even if they would have a full defence under the new regulations.
This is a new area of the legal system and as such is expected to have some initial problems. Many of the procedures will be adopted from the drink drive procedure, which is not without flaws. The taking of the blood/urine, potential contaminants and continuity of the sample will be subject to close scrutiny before any motorist should be convicted.
Justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done. With that mantra in mind, ensuring proper guidance is made available to motorists will be essential in maintaining the credibility and veracity of these Regulations.
Nick Terry, drivingoffence.com