What is the law concerning drug driving?

Man taking drugs

Kenway Miller is Cheshire’s longest established firm specialising in defending motoring offences, including drug driving - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Many drivers are unaware of the law concerning driving after taking either controlled drugs or prescription medication.

Matthew Miller, solicitor and managing director of Kenway Miller, Cheshire’s longest established firm specialising solely in defending motoring offences, has seen a marked increase in drug-related driving arrests in recent years.

As specialists in defending any motoring offence for which a driver can receive penalty points or disqualification, his firm focuses on everything from speeding and mobile phone use while driving to careless driving, drug and drink driving and dangerous driving. 

Here, Matthew sheds light on the law concerning drug driving:

Q: Kenway Miller is celebrating its 10-year anniversary, how has the firm changed in that time? 

Before the drug driving limits were introduced in 2015, most of our cases were focused around speeding and other minor motoring offences. We still deal with these matters but the emphasis of our work has changed markedly since the limits were introduced. I now spend most of my time dealing with offences of driving in excess of the limit for drugs.

Q: What is drug driving and which drugs does it include?

Man driving and smoking joint

Even a small amount of a controlled drug will put a driver at risk of being over the limit - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Before 2015, drug driving had to involve some level of impairment to the standard of driving. Limits have been introduced which do not require the prosecution to prove impairment of driving, so that even a small amount of a controlled drug found in a blood specimen will put a driver at risk of being over the limit even though their driving may have been unaffected. This includes recreational drugs such as THC (the psychoactive compound within cannabis) and some prescription drugs such as diazepam, flunitrazepam and clonazepam.

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Q: How low are the limits for having these drugs in your system and then driving? 

The limits have been set very low for recreational drugs such as THC and cocaine (there is also a limit for benzoylecgonine – the breakdown product of cocaine). These drugs can stay in the body for several days, long after the effects have worn off. The limits have been set higher for prescription drugs but if the prescribed dose is exceeded there will be a significant risk of being accused of being over the limit. Always check whether or not you should be driving after taking any prescription medicine – and ensure you have a full understanding of any limits.

Q: What are the penalties for getting caught and could someone end up in court? 

Upon conviction for driving in excess of the limit, the minimum period of disqualification is 12 months. If a blood sample has been taken and the analysis carried out on behalf of the police is reported as being over the limit, a court prosecution will almost always follow.

Q: Could an offender end up with a custodial sentence? 

With a serious offence where there are aggravating circumstances, a custodial sentence may be imposed. For example, where there are previous convictions or there are aggravating factors such as evidence of significant impairment or whether others have been placed at significant risk through careless driving, the court may consider it.

Q: Is it an offence to drive after taking any prescription medicines? 

It is an offence to drive with the level of some prescription drugs such as diazepam, flunitrazepam and clonazepam above the legal limit while above the prescribed limit. Always check whether or not you should be driving after taking any prescription medicine – and ensure you have a full understanding of any limits.

Q: Should someone caught drug driving employ a specialist solicitor? 

Asian young adult sitting at desk across from manager being interviewed job interview in business ro

If you’ve been charged with a drug driving offence, it is always a good idea to obtain advice from a solicitor straight away - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A conviction for being above the prescribed limit can have long-term detrimental consequences which may be felt long after the disqualification has been served. If you’ve been charged, it is always a good idea to obtain advice from a solicitor before deciding what to do. The laws surrounding drug driving are not straightforward. A defence relating to the procedures followed by the police, the handling of the specimen taken by the police or the reliability of the analysis may apply. As specialist solicitors in this area of the law, we can advise you about the likelihood of being able to defend the charge successfully.

Q: Is there legal aid available for this time of offence? 

It may be available depending on the seriousness of the offence and the consequences of conviction. We do not offer legal aid but will quote a fixed fee for our services depending on the amount of work required.

For more information visit drugdrivingsolicitors.co.uk or call 0161 241 3322.