Similar to drink driving or being in control of a vehicle whilst under the influence alcohol it is now against the law to drive whilst under the influence of drugs, otherwise known as Drug Driving.
The Road and Traffic Act of 1988 states that “a person who, when in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle which is on the road or other public place, is unfit to drive through drink or drugs is guilty of an offence.”
The law ensures that it is illegal to drive a mechanically propelled vehicle if the person is unfit to do so because the said person is on legal or illegal drugs. The law also states that if there is a certain level of illegal drugs in the driver’s blood, then it is illegal for that person to be in charge of a vehicle, even if this is not affecting a person’s driving.
If a person is convicted of drug driving, the penalties are a minimum one-year driving ban, an unlimited fine, up to six months in prison and a criminal record. Your driving licence will also show you have been convicted for drug driving. This will last for eleven years. And the penalty for causing death by dangerous driving under the influence of drugs is a penalty of a prison sentence of up to fourteen years. A conviction for driving whilst under the influence of drugs also means that a person’s vehicle insurance costs will increase significantly. Another possible consequence of a drug driving conviction is that if a person drives to work, their employer will see your conviction on your licence and the person may have difficulty travelling to different countries such as the USA.
The police can stop a person and make a person do a ‘field impairment assessment’ if they think the said person is on drugs. This is a series of tests, for example asking a person to walk in a straight line. They can also use a roadside drug kit to screen for cannabis and cocaine. If the police think that the person is unfit to drive because of being under the influence of drugs, the person will be arrested and will have to take a blood or urine test at a police station. The said person could be charged with a crime if the test shows the person has taken drugs.
For example, the law states that driving whilst under the influence of illegal and some legal drugs is an offence. Examples of illegal drugs include drugs such as heroin, marijuana and cocaine. Put simply, the definition of legal drugs are prescription or over-the-counter medicines. If you are taking legal drugs and are not sure if you should be driving whilst taking them, talk to your doctor, pharmacist or healthcare professional. It is illegal in England and Wales to drive with legal drugs in a person’s body if it impairs his or her driving. It is also an offence to drive if the said person has over the specified limits of certain drugs in their blood and the person hasn’t been prescribed them.
To avoid being charged with driving under the influence of legal drugs, you should talk to your doctor about whether you should drive if you’ve been prescribed certain types of legal drugs. You can drive after taking these legal drugs if you’ve been prescribed them and followed advice on how to take them by a healthcare professional. You are also legal to drive if these legal drugs aren’t causing you to be unfit to drive even if you’re above the specified limits. However, you could be prosecuted if you drive with certain levels of these drugs in your body and you haven’t been prescribed them. This law doesn’t cover Northern Ireland and Scotland, but you could still be arrested if you’re unfit to drive. Examples of legal drugs which you should be aware of include any of these following drugs:
- amphetamine, for example dexamphetamine or selegiline
- morphine or opiate and opioid-based drugs, for example codeine, tramadol or fentanyl
However, the practice of law in regard to drug driving is a little more complicated than most people would initially assume. The language and definitions in Section 4 of the 1988 Road Traffic Act separates three different offences of Drug driving. For example, the law states that ultimately, whether a person was ‘driving’ or not at the relevant time is a question of fact. Although the question is, or will be, determined by reference to a number of essential factors. These essential factors include the extent to which the person had control of both the direction and movement of the vehicle. Other factors that have to be considered by the courts include factors such as how long the defendant had control of the movement and direction of the vehicle, whether the defendant deliberately set the vehicle in motion, and whether the defendant used the vehicle’s controls to direct its movement. The law also considers the factor of if the defendant was a passenger who was ‘interfering’ with the driver. Due to this, if a person has been accused of drug driving, it might not always have been whilst the person thought they were in sole control of the vehicle.
The second offence that the 1988 Road Traffic Act states that it is an offence to be attempting to drive whilst using drugs. Simply put, the offence of ‘attempting to drive’ include acts that are more than merely preparatory to the act of driving, for example opening a car door. The possibility that the vehicle is incapable of being driven, for example the engine is faulty or won’t start, will not prevent a charge involving an ‘attempt’ to drive whilst unfit, in this case whilst under the influence of drugs. An example of attempting to drive whilst under the influence of drugs would be if a defendant sits in the vehicle’s driver’s seat of a car and, being unfit to drive because of drugs, tries to put the car keys in the ignition. That behaviour may be enough to prove a charge of ‘attempting to drive’ while unfit to drive whilst under the influence of drugs.
A third offence that the 1988 Road Traffic Act states is that it is an offence to be in charge of a vehicle whilst using drugs. There are two principles for there to be a possible charge for this offence. To explain these simply would be to put them into two scenarios, the first being when the defendant is the owner of the vehicle or where they have recently driven it. In these cases, it would be for the defendant to show that they were no longer in charge of the vehicle and there was no likelihood of their resuming control of the vehicle at the relevant time, for example whilst they were using the drugs. The second scenario where the defendant is no long the owner of the vehicle or has not recently driven the vehicle. In these cases, the prosecution must show that the defendant was in voluntary control of the vehicle or intended to become so in the immediate future.
With the offence of being in charge of a vehicle whilst under the influence of drugs, when the courts arrive at their decision, they will consider whether the defendant had the keys of the vehicle, where the defendant was in relation to the vehicle at the time and what evidence there is of the defendant’s intention to take control of the vehicle.
Due to the complexity of the law behind drug driving, it is important that if you are accused of drug driving that you seek the correct and professional legal help to assist you through the legal process. So, if you have been charged with driving whilst under the influence of drugs, whether that be legal or illegal drugs, do not hesitate to contact Driving Solicitors on 07739 795 433 and get expert legal advice from a specialist motoring solicitor today.
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Written by: Miriam Rhodes-Leader