New drug driving law explained… the essential info

New drug driving law

Calling all drivers! New drug driving legislation is now in force – and it’s not just those using illegal drugs that need to take notice. Read on to find out how your prescription medicines and over-the-counter remedies could result in a driving ban of at least 12 months – or even imprisonment.

Beat the confusion surrounding the new law with APH.com‘s easy to read guide covering the new rules on driving with both legal and illicit drugs, which came into effect on March 2, 2015.

New drug driving law at-a-glance guide

It's not just illegal drugs that can claim your licence

It’s not just illegal drugs that can claim your licence

Read on and get the information you need to ensure your licence stays safe…


What is the new law?

Getting behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs – either illicit or prescription – has always been an offence if the police can prove their use impairs your ability to drive. The new law will work alongside the existing offence, but will now make it an offence to drive while over a specified limit for each of the 16 drugs included in the new law – bringing it in line with drink-driving legislation. Police will no longer need to prove impairment for this new offence.


When does it come into effect?

The new law came into effect on March 2, 2015


Surely this won’t affect me?

You might not be snorting cocaine or injecting heroin, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be affected by this legislation. Government stats reveal that around 19million prescriptions are written for medicines that are made up of substances included in this new legislation.


How will police test for the drugs?

Previously, police would ask motorists suspected of driving while impaired by drugs to take a roadside impairment test. This includes areas such as having their pupils assessed for size, condition and reaction to light. However, new roadside saliva tests have now been approved for police use. These will work in a similar way to breathalysers and will provide a pass or fail reading for the 16 drugs covered by the new law.


What drugs are included and what are the limits?

The following prescription and illicit drugs will be included in this new law. The limits are also included and effectively relate to a zero-tolerance policy for illicit substances.

Generally prescription drugsIllicit drugs
clonazepam, 50 µg/L
diazepam, 550 µg/L
flunitrazepam, 300 µg/L
lorazepam, 100 µg/L
methadone, 500 µg/L
morphine, 80 µg/L
oxazepam, 300 µg/L
temazepam, 1000 µg/L
benzoylecgonine, 50 µg/L
cocaine, 10 µg/L
delta–9–tetrahydrocannabinol (cannabis and cannabinol), 2 µg/L
ketamine, 20 µg/L
lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), 1 µg/L
methylamphetamine (Crystal Meth or Ice), 10 µg/L
methylenedioxymethaphetamine (MDMA – ecstasy), 10 µg/L
6-monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM – heroin and diamorphine), 5 µg/L


All that sounds confusing – how much does that relate to?

Traces of illicit and prescription drugs can remain in your body for many days, which is why a panel of experts assisted the government in setting levels at which they are likely to impair driving ability.

However, the amount of time it will take for drug levels to fall to an acceptable level will depend on various factors, such as a person’s weight, tolerance and amount of substance taken.


Does that mean I should stop my medication?

No. Do not stop taking your prescribed medication, but you will need to make sure you’re taking it exactly as prescribed by your doctor, health professional or on the packaging.

If your prescribed medication includes drugs on the restricted list, you have what is known as a ‘Medical Defence’. However, you should make an appointment with a doctor or health professional to discuss the dose of drug you are taking. In some cases, it may be necessary to reduce or modify the amount of drug you take.

The government is advising anyone taking prescription medicines covered by the new law that it would be ‘helpful for you to keep some evidence of this with you in case you’re stopped by the police’.

If you exceed the dose prescribed by your doctor, or health professional you will no longer be able to use the medical defence, making it likely that you’ll be open to prosecution under the new legislation.


What happens if I am stopped and fail a roadside saliva test?

If you provide a positive roadside saliva test, you will be taken to a police station where you’ll be requested to provide a blood sample as evidence for any subsequent prosecution.

However, if you’re taking the medication under advice from a doctor, you are entitled to raise the statutory ‘medical defence’ at any stage. Providing you have reasonable proof of this, there should be no grounds for arrest or requirement to take a blood test.


What should you keep in your car?

If you are taking medication that includes a controlled drug, obtaining a letter from your doctor confirming your legitimate use of the drug and dosage required should help avoid problems with cops at the roadside. Your doctor might charge anything up to £20.00 for this, but it could save a lot of time and inconvenience if you’re stopped by the police.


Tell me more about the ‘Medical Defence’:

The ‘medical defence’ can usually by raised if the following conditions apply:

  • IThe drug was lawfully prescribed, supplied, or purchased over-the-counter, for medical or dental purposes; and
  • The drug was taken in accordance with advice given by the person who prescribed or supplied the drug, and in accordance with any accompanying literature.


When the Medical Defence does not apply:

If the police have evidence that the ‘patient’s’ driving was impaired due to drugs, whether prescribed or not, they can prosecute under the existing offence of driving whilst impaired through drugs as described in section 4 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, for which there is no statutory “medical defence”:


What happens if I am convicted under this new law?

Penalties for drug driving are the same as for drink driving. If you are convicted you will receive:

A minimum 12-month driving ban
A criminal record
A fine of up to £5000 or up to 6 months in prison or both


Don’t ignore effects of alcohol:

The effects of many drugs, both prescribed and illicit, can be enhanced when combined with alcohol. Mixing alcohol and drugs can lead to significant impairment and prosecution even if intoxication levels are within legal limits.


Does this law supersede the current law of driving while impaired?

No. Driving while impaired through drugs (whether due to non-medical use of drugs or due to legitimate use of medicines) in section 4 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, will operate alongside this new offence.


Driving while impaired – existing law at-glance-guide

The size of pupils can be used to check impairment due to drugs - legit or otherwise: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pupil#mediaviewer/File:Eye_iris.jpg" target="_blank">image credit</a>

The size of pupil can be used to check impairment due to drugs – legit or otherwise: image credit

Along with the new test that measures the amount of a certain drug you have in your blood, the existing offence of driving while impaired by a drug will still apply. Here’s all you need to know about this law and how it might affect you – and what medications motorists should be careful of using.

Here’s all you need to know about the current ‘driving while impaired’ law.


Is this the same as the new law?

No. The new law involves a roadside test that checks the level of certain drugs in your blood. This existing law is used to look for road users whose driving is impaired by drugs. The new law covers 16 drugs, while this existing law covers all medications and illegal substances.


Is it true that everyday medication can affect my driving?

It certainly is. Research has revealed that even over-the-counter medications for mild colds can cause drowsiness and dramatically increase reaction times. See our graphic below for more information.


But the medications are legal, so I am okay to use them, right:

Wrong! Driving under the influence of any drug – legal or otherwise – is a serious offence and covered by the Road Traffic Act 1988. It’s also treated with the same severity as drink driving – attracting the same penalties.


But if my doctor prescribed it, I am covered?

Not necessarily the case, if the drug impairs your driving then it’s your responsibility to stay off the road. However, your doctor should warn you of potential issues when prescribing the medication.


The new law has a ‘Medical Defence’ so I am okay if my doc prescribed the drug?

It’s correct that the ‘Medical Defence’ applies to the new law, but it certainly doesn’t apply to this existing legislation. If the police can prove your driving is impaired by drugs, then you can be prosecuted.


How do I know if a medication could impair my driving?

Read the patient information leaflet, which comes with the product. If in doubt, have a chat with the pharmacist who’ll be able to tell you if the medication could make you feel drowsy.


So should I stop taking my medication?

Once again, speak to your doctor for advice. In some cases it may be you’ll need to change drugs, but don’t stop taking any treatment without first discussing it with a GP.


I've been prescribed drugs and none warn of drowsiness – am I OK to drive?

This might not be the case, combining medicines can create unpredictable reactions. Don’t drive until you’ve tested the combination and spoken to your doctor. This advice also applies to over-the-counter medications.


How do police check for this offence?

The police may ask drivers they suspect are under the influence of drugs to perform a series of physical tests, usually at the roadside. These include tests such as walking along a straight line, touching the tip of their noses with their finger, and standing on one leg. The police also examine drivers’ pupils to see if they are dilated while checking for slurred speech and poor co-ordination. If the police officer is not satisfied the suspect is taken to a police station and a blood test undertaken.


Danger in the medicine cabinet

Don’t think that popping a headache pill or taking a pill to soothe your cold are exempt from danger. Many over-the-counter medications are capable of leaving your driving impaired – and you open to prosecution under existing law. Here’s the information you need on everyday remedies you can buy at your local pharmacy…



Older drivers
It’s essential that older drivers should pay special attention to warnings on over-the-counter medicines, because as people age, we become more susceptible to sedation and performance impairment due to renal dysfunction in old age.

* Source: The British Allergy Foundation

Am I fit to drive?

Here’s the official government video looking at the new legislation.

How illegal and prescription drugs affect driving

Combining any type of drugs with driving means this is more likely

Combining any type of drugs with driving means this is more likely

Do you know someone that might be driving while under the influence of drugs? This is how illicit and prescription drugs can affect behaviour behind the wheel…

Illegal drugs

Effects of illicit substances can be unpredictable because they are unregulated, but research shows that these common factors apply to those using the various groups when behind the wheel. Effects can also last long beyond when the drug was taken, with disturbed, or shortened sleep patterns making accidents more likely.

Open each section below to see how illegal drugs affect performance behind the wheel.


Cannabis:

Using this drug will slow reactions, affect co-ordination and cause users to suffer a sedative-like effect. Research in simulators shows drivers who’ve used cannabis are less able to steer accurately and slower to react to developing hazards.


Cocaine:

This drug can boost confidence and cause erratic behaviour. Users will tend to drive faster and take risks while ‘high’ from the drug. Additionally, the ‘come down’ period over following days will leave affect concentration and make drivers feel sleepy.


Ecstasy:

Using this drug can boost the amount of adrenaline produced, leaving drivers behaving in an over-confident manner – and taking more risks.


LSD:

Using this can distort time and movement, making it impossible for drivers to judge the position and speed of other road users. Using the drug can also cause hallucinations, resulting in panic and confusion – not a good mix for drivers.


Speed:

This stimulant leaves users over-alert and excited, resulting in risk-taking and erratic behaviour behind the wheel. The drug will also make it difficult to sleep, so extreme fatigue will become a problem for users driving on subsequent days.

Amphetamines, also have medicinal use in the control of several conditions and the government consultation on maximum permissible limits in the blood is yet to be set.


Illegal drugs and crash risk
Research of fatal crashes in France between 2001 and 2003 revealed taking cannabis almost doubles the risk of involvement in a fatal crash.

Research from a European study reveals that cocaine and illegal opiate use increases a driver’s serious and fatal crash risk by up to 10 times.

Motorists taking a cocktail of illegal drugs combined with alcohol were found to be 23 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash compared with sober and drug-free drivers, according to research in the USA.


Prescription drugs

Just because drugs are dispensed over the counter, it doesn’t mean they’re exempt from new or existing drug-driving laws. Many medications can cause drowsiness, slow reaction times and affect concentration or vision. A UK-based study from 2000 revealed 5% of car drivers and 4% of motorcyclists killed in road crashed had taken legal medications that could have affected their ability to drive.

Medications that cause drowsiness or otherwise impair driving ability will carry a warning on the packaging and information label. However, a survey by road safety charity Brake and Direct Line found that one in six drivers admit they ignore warnings not to drive, or even checking the medication’s information leaflet at all.

The government is creating ‘partner packs’ for pharmacists in an attempt to create wider awareness of what drugs will be affected by the new legislation and making users aware of which over-the-counter medications could impair driving and risk prosecution – or injury.

Prescription drugs crash risk
A Norwegian study revealed the risk of being involved in a road crash double or tripled – depending on the type of medication – for up to a week after taking prescription drugs such as opiate painkillers and some types of tranquilizers. Additionally, a study in New Zealand found people using medicines prescribed to treat bipolar disorder are more than three times as likely to be at fault in an accident than a drug-free driver.

Worried that someone has been using drugs

Are you worried that someone you know has been driving while impaired by drugs? Here are some of the tell-tale signs a person is under the influence of drugs.

  • Skin: Poor condition and unusually pale
  • Weight: Look out for unexplained weightloss
  • Sweating: Especially night sweats
  • Nails: Brittle or broken
  • Hair: Unusually dull or lank
  • Eyes: Bloodshot and unusual-sized pupil
  • Complexion: Look out for spots around nose and mouth

     


Home drug test kits

Anyone who wishes to check for illicit drugs in their system or that of a car-driving child for example, can purchase a cheap, discreet home test kit. Here’s an example of what’s on offer.

Drug test4 Drug Screen – Saliva test
What is it: Easy-to-read home-based drug test kit that uses saliva for the sample.
What drugs does it test for: This test kit will look for evidence of the following illicit drugs at and above the stated levels: AMP Amphetamines (50 ng/ml), COC Cocaine (20 ng/ml), MOR Heroin/Opiate/Morphine (40 ng/ml), THC (Cannabis 10 ng/ml).
How much: £9.99 for single-use kit
Where: Get your kit here


 

Drug test home8 Panel Drug Test with Integrated Cup – urine test
What is it:
This is a multi-drug test kit that has all you need to get result in less than 10 minutes. Testing is carried out using a urine sample.
What drugs does it test for: This eight-panel drug test detects the presence of Amphetamines (Speed), Benzodiazepines(Valium), Buprenorphine (Subutex), Cannabis (Marijuana), Cocaine (Crack), EDDP(Methadone),   Metamphetamines (Crystal Meth or Ice) and Opiates (Heroin).
How much: £10.49 for single-use kit
Where: Get your kit here

We do not guarantee the accuracy of any third party drug test published here.

Beat anxiety… flying without risking your licence

Travel sickness pills and anxiety medication can lose your licence

Travel sickness pills and anxiety medication can lose your licence

Fear of flying is a common complaint that’s routinely and successfully treated by doctors prescribing a short course of a medication such as Valium. Taking a few of these before a flight can reduce anxiety and make your trip more enjoyable. However, drugs such as this include substances covered by the new law.

Using a drug for the first time can increase its potency, so here are our tips for nervous flyers who are taking Valium to treat anxiety. Returning home to the UK then jumping straight in your car could potentially leave you ‘over the limit’, so consider these options.

Book a hotel with parking package: Here at APH we offer parking and hotel packages for only a few pounds more than parking alone. Arrive the night before you fly – cutting stress even further – then use your medication on the morning of your flight and take advantage of the hotel to airport transfer… ensuring you’re ready for your flight, but not risking your licence under the new drug driving law.

Additionally, booking a room on the night of your flight will allow time for the drug to clear your system from the return flight – leaving your clear to drive home the following morning.
Find out more information on hotel and parking packages here.

Additionally, using air sickness pills on flights can also leave you drowsy and at risk of driving while impaired. If you take these drugs and feel drowsy on your return, you should consider booking a hotel room allowing you to recover.
Find out more here.

Meet and greet parking: If booking a hotel room isn’t an option for you, choosing a meet and greet parking package could save you up to an hour compared with other parking options – giving you time to take your medication and for it to take effect before your flight takes off.
Find out more information on meet and greet parking here.

ROSPA Safe Journey planner
Are you fit to drive? From medications to general tiredness, this planner from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents will help you arrive at to your destination in one piece.
Download it here.

Written by @pete_barden

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11 comments for “New drug driving law explained… the essential info

  1. Angela
    June 15, 2016 at 4:03 pm

    Iv had my license revoked due to new medication I’m taking,iv got 23yrs clean licence driving behind me I can say I drive better than some idiot’s on the roads these days, with all changes through dla to pip, I lost my mobility car iv had for 1 23yrs, it’s totally f rigged my life up this government and it’s policies are a shamble, now I’m having to fight through my gp to get my license back and then try and safe for a car just to get me to my hospital appointments instead of relying on nhs transport,

  2. Wayne
    May 9, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    I don’t even know where to begin on this subject without raging and going off topic but here goes nothing!..

    I have fibromyalgia which makes my everyday life just awful, some weeks better than others though I must say but even still I have to take prescription pain meds to just get me through the day at work…..now this is where it gets interesting because my doctor will not prescribe me anything stronger than the weak 30/500 co codamol because of the driving laws but I can still be done for using what I do now, not only that but also as most meds say “don’t use heavy equipment ” etc…..so not only am I not allowed to drive to work (of which I have no choice due to location) but I cannot lawfully work either……and is down to my workplace to take the risk to allow me too

    Our system here is a complete joke!!.

    Yea I agree if you totally off your face with alcohol, cocaine, cannabis or even prescription meds to the point where your dizzy or can’t focus etc you should not be anywhere near a vehicle……
    But if you can function perfectly fine then no test to measure the amount in your blood should be valid at all

    Our country is falling apart rapidly and even more so with the imbeciles we have running it.

    I have been currently looking at the prescription drug sativex which is an extract of cannabis but is not on the driving ban list…..although cannabis is on there so they would probably twist it in some way…..even so it’s worth exploring…..

    I fear the future especially for our children and grandchildren because nothing seems to improve….. We just get more and more tightly squeezed financially and through petty laws that solve absolutely nothing apart from somehow lining the pockets of the already rich…….

    I would like to finish on one thing though and that is……

    I do believe that the British people if stood together could turn all of this around, we just need the conviction to do so and to find a way to bring us all together instead of small groups here and there……..a good example is the French strikes quite a number of years ago when their government tried to put up the retirement age…..when it was announced the whole country practically stopped with outrage until it was abolished…….
    So it can be done people we just have to fight for it and stand strong together with a big f*** you

  3. nigel davison
    December 31, 2015 at 7:20 pm

    my licence was pulled,i take 45mg physeptone a day,prescribed,never take more,i had a letter from dvla saying i ve been misusing drugs for a yr,WRONG,i used to take diazepam,but havnt for ages and ages,i have liver cirhosis due to hep c,but havnt drunk for over 20 yrs,i had to go to an independent medical in taunton,i live in exmouth.my car was my only way of getting about,now i expect i ll fade away and die,,,,,,,,,,,,,,YET I VE DONE NOTHIN/////////////////G WRONG,,,,,nigel d

  4. Capitain sensible
    December 21, 2015 at 2:04 pm

    My 25yr old son was stopped on the road by the police – he had committed no driving offence and was driving perfectly ok – It was a random pull. He had smoked cannabis 10 hrs earlier. He had been skatebarding for 3 hrs at a semi pro level amougst other unskilled ‘boarders without colision or falling off. He has pefect spacial awareness and reaction times and balance. These dumb , brainless “one size fits all” definitions dreamt up by the government are wrong. The test and convition needs to be based soley on the ability to drive at the time of apprehension as that is what the conviction is about.- the ability too drive competently and safely – not some statistical figure based on how much of a substance is present in the blood. That is very subjective and totally unfair in many cases. I would suggest a driving simulator which can stress any competent driver to a measured level of difficulty – probably the same as that used by the government to define the blood levels.He tested positive by the policeman who took him to the local police station, leeaving his car on a very busy dual carriage way with no safe pedestrian access to it at all. After his blood sample was taken, the police told him to leave the station , he had no money or means to collect his car or get home. The blood sample showed 2.8 microgrammes / litre of blood, the limit is 2 microgrammes. The Magistrate court removed his licence for 12 months ( that is Non discretionary – ie statutory) and a £350 fine / costs/ in total.
    Be Warned over the limit on cannabis is an automatic removal of your driving licence – no appeal – that is it.

  5. luke baillie
    November 26, 2015 at 12:41 am

    Hi all just like to say I have recently been pulled over by the police and tested positive to cannabis as I used to smoke alot. The legal limit of cannabis you can have is 0.002ng per liter of blood which is similar to having a joint 8-12 hours later. The system the police are using can only detect if you have smoked in the past 10/12 hours. Then have to take a blood sample to prove how much is in your system.well I’m waiting on court now but the arresting police officer drove me back to my car and told me to drive my car to the car park and sleep of the cannabis effects as it was early hours after he’s arrested me for drug driving. My blood sample came back at 3.1mg per liter which is pretty high. And would take days to leave my system. This is the only defense I have. Should I have stayed in a cell that night? Should I have been allowed to drive that night?

    • Pete Barden
      November 26, 2015 at 10:58 am

      This site is for information only and any legal issues need to be taken up with your legal representative.

  6. SusanRipley
    July 8, 2015 at 9:41 am

    OMG so what happens to drivers who are taking needed prescribed meds from their doctors, I mean needed ones for health reasons to enable them to drive to work and back. Are these people then to be in dread on their journeys of being pulled over, losing their licence, fined and a possible prison sentence, Talk about going over the top!

    • Pete Barden
      July 8, 2015 at 1:00 pm

      Doctors should always prescribe safe levels or advise patients not to drive. As long as the prescribed limits are adhered to, all drivers should be safe to use their car without fear. Anyone taking pills included on the list should speak to their doc to make sure they’re at a safe level.

  7. Scott
    June 2, 2015 at 5:30 am

    I regularly smoke cannibis but don’t drive while high and can totally understand why nobody should ever drive while high on anything, but my question is, will I still be fined/arrested if I’ve had a session with the boys the night before and then after I’ve been to sleep, woke up not even a little bit high, drove to work the day after?

    • Pete Barden
      June 2, 2015 at 10:12 am

      Yes – the chemicals will remain in your system for several days. It is impossible to say how long as this varies from person to person. Drugs such as cocaine can remain in the system for many days.

  8. Ray Harrison
    March 27, 2015 at 5:47 am

    Seeing this Poxy Government are cutting everything, armed forces, plus Police officers, there aren’t enough to catch drink drivers let alone some crazy new law that states that even if you have bought a medicine over the counter ( Aspirin, Paracetamol, Cough Syrup etc) and you get stopped driving by the dwindling Police you could be banned from driving…I appreciate the fact if you are smoking cannabis or snorting cocaine and driving you should be off the road, but tablets or medicines prescribed by your Doctor………or worse still take a couple of Paracetamol due to a headache you could technically be on the road to losing your driving licence……….so Master Cameron you are not happy with the motorist getting hammered with fuel duty ( The highest in Europe)……price of crude oil is at a very low point YET Petrol and Diesel are slowly creeping up at the pumps once again…and my thoughts are VAT being raised to 20% on Gas and electricity.. instead of 5% you are absolute morons by raising Taxes by the back door……………….I know you multi-millionaires don’t need the money but the ordinary man on the street struggling to get by each week, you are content with more Tax Hikes….and you don’t think you would serve a third term of office……………you are as mad as Maggie Thatcher, pack up NOW before the election, we as a country don’t need you nor any other jumped up baby-faced moron trying to run the once Great Britain.

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