It’s that time of year again.
Pretty well every police force will shortly be starting its annual Christmas drink drive campaign, but this year it will be a little different as forces also seek to apprehend those who drive whilst under the influence of drugs.
There has long been a problem for the police, and that is the absence of a quick method of determining if a driver has drugs in his body. At the beginning of this year it was announced that police forces would have access to “spitalysers” , devices that can be used at the road side to instantly indicate if a driver has taken cannabis. The police have long been able to use breath testing devices to test for alcohol, but drug impairment has always been difficult to measure without blood samples (which take a while to test) and evidence of impairment. Whilst the devices are not going to be ready for Christmas, police are nonetheless upping their game on drug driving.
No one will condone drink or drug driving, but there does need to be an awareness of the legal framework that applies in all such cases. This year is also different for another reason; Scotland will shortly change its law to reduce the limit from 80 in blood to only 50. Drivers crossing the border might be legal in England and Wales but illegal in Scotland.
Drivers will need to be particularly aware of the side effects of prescribed drugs and those purchased over the counter. This applies to a number of pick me ups that deal with flu and cold symptoms. Earlier this year the driving limits for 8 prescribed drugs were published.
A good number of these are present in frequently used medications and drivers do need to have an awareness of this. It creates a serious problem; what to do with a driver who has taken completely legal drugs on prescription and had no knowledge he would be affected? The courts will be dealing with those who have taken illegal drugs with the sole intention of getting high, and those who have taken legal ones with the sole intention of getting better or just being able to get through the day.
Spot checks purely to determine if someone is drink driving are not strictly legal but the police need only give a simple reason for stopping or enquiring. Once engaged in conversation the police will look for glazed eyes or the smell of alcohol.
The police will bring an allegation of driving whilst unfit through drugs if they have reason to believe that you were driving a motor vehicle on a road or other public place after consuming drugs and if that your driving was impaired as a consequence. The police might have followed you for a bit and seen how you drove, or you might have been involved in an accident to which the police were called. The accident might not even have been your fault, but if you show signs that you have drugs in your body you will likely face an investigation.
Sussex Police are warning that motorists charged with drink or drug driving offences throughout December can expect to see their names published as part of a continued crackdown on offenders. They did it last year and whilst the deterrent motives are understandable, some drivers will be named and shamed who are never in fact convicted. It is understandably controversial.
Drug and drink driving are very technical areas of law with all kinds of safeguards built into the process, and inevitably some prosecutions are not successful for perfectly proper reasons.
I expect other forces to be similarly vigorous with publicity campaigns to increase awareness and to encourage reports by members of the public. In fact this year Susses is going to run its campaign jointly with Surrey. I am sure Kent and Essex will be similarly vigorous with drink and drug driving.
Something what is frequently overlooked by drivers is the effect of morning after driving, and driving after a train journey from work. The rate at which the body metabolises alcohol is easily misjudged and a heavy night’s drinking followed by an early drive to work can catch people out. The same is true with those who enjoy a drink in London after work and take a train home. Many commuter stations have police ready to check and I have represented a good many caught out. It’s a mistake to think that some sleep or strong coffee will help; they don’t get rid of the alcohol.