Starting today, UK motorists are facing tougher laws for driving under the influence of drugs.
Drivers in England and Wales will be prosecuted if caught exceeding new consumption limits as set out by lawmakers for eight prescription and eight illegal drugs.
The new laws are meant to complement the existing rules, which make it an offence to drive under the influence of drugs.
Drugalyser, a device that many British drivers are familiar with, are used to screen those behind the wheel for common substances such as cocaine and cannabis. The screening is done roadside much as the same as breathalyzes. Drugalyser results take about 10 minutes.
While roadside drugalyser tests look for cocaine and cannabis, the at-the-station version is able to detect other illegal drugs including ketamine, ecstasy, heroin and LSD. Police are within their right to test a driver even if a driver passes the roadside check.
With the new law in place, acceptable drug levels are much lower than before and can land a driver in jail.
Dr Kim Wolff, Reader in Addiction Science at King’s College London and an adviser for the government drug drive policy, said, “It is worrying to note that so many drug drivers said they felt safe to drive after taking illegal drugs.
“Illegal drugs seriously impair skills required to drive safely, such as reaction time and decision making. In many cases those who take certain illegal drugs believe that they are safe to drive, but are in fact putting themselves and others at risk. Greater awareness of the dangers of drug driving is important as we move forward with this important step towards safer roads.”
Current drug-driving convictions can lead to a one-year driving ban and a fine of up to £5,000 ($7,700, 6,860 euros), a possible six-month incarceration and a lifetime criminal record. The offending driver also has their license highlighted with a drug-driving conviction for 11 years.
Drivers that test positive for prescription drugs including methadone and morphine will not be reprimanded as long as their levels are below new law levels.
David Taylor, professor of psychopharmacology at Kings College, London and a member of the Department of Transport’s advisory panel on drug driving, said the law will work as a much stronger deterrent and also make prosecutions much easier, noting that the new rules are a “zero-tolerance approach.”
He adds that although the situation for people using prescription drugs has not changed, “the onus is on the individual to assure themselves that their driving ability is not impaired.”
In Manchester, police say they need about two weeks to properly train their officers and examine the legal implications of the new laws.
Campaigners, many of which are devastated family members from people who have been killed by drugged drivers, welcome the move while local ministers say it will save lives.