Drug-Driving Cases Dropped Over Forensics

It has been announced this evening that a number of drug-driving prosecutions have been dropped because original test results may have been "manipulated" by staff ar Randox Testing Services in Manchester.

What happened at Randox

It is reported that "rogue" staff manipulated quality control results used to check test samples taken in cases ranging from murder to drug driving offences. 

Randox drug testing

Police have probed Randox after two men were arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice in February, and said that more than 10,000 cases may have been affected.

This will cover a wide range of police and civil investigations, but according to the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) 75% were traffic offences, such as drug driving.

BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said it was "the biggest forensic science scandal in the UK for decades".

A total of 42 police forces across the country sent data to the laboratory for testing.

Potential data manipulation at a different facility, Trimega Laboratories, is also being investigated by Greater Manchester Police, said the NPCC. Tests carried out between 2010 and 2014 may be unreliable according to reports.

What is being done to check test results?

Thousands of samples will have to be retested, assuming that sufficient quantities remain and have been properly stored. Poor record keeping may make it difficult for those affected to be identified and written to.

What does this mean for criminal cases?

Some cases will be abandoned if the courts believe the test results are not reliable. In some instances innocent people will have been convicted and it's possible some guilty people will have walked free.

Police have admitted that in all over 10,000 samples will have to be retested. Whilst it is possible that the retest will give a similar result, a major problem for police will be poor storage after all this time, even assuming that enough blood has actually been retained to do a retest. Inadequate storage and quantities will pose major obstacles for police in these extraordinary circumstances. It  could be very difficult indeed to show that a driver whose results were affected by this was  over the relevant limit.

The National Police Chiefs' Council has stated that "fewer than ten per cent of retests have resulted in drug driving cases being discontinued." Something in the region of 10% dubious results considering how many cases are affected could mean a significant number of convictions will be reviewed.

How long has this been going on?  

Policing minister Nick Hurd has said that all test results carried out by Randox and Trimega are being treated as potentially unreliable. He further stated that most drug tests between 2013 and 2017 are potentially unreliable.

Drug testing appeals

Many motorists will have pleaded guilty and trusted the laboratory results. If you think you may have been affected there is a procedure to appeal your drug driving conviction.

I am experienced in these appeals. If you think you may have been affected contact me urgently on 01580 292409 or use my contact form.

The Right Kind of Drink Driving

 

It might sound a little light hearted but it could be serious. DRIVING while dehydrated has almost the same effect on driver errors as being behind the wheel under the influence of alcohol.

Motorists are being warned about the dangerous effects of driving whilst dehydrated.

We are all frequently reminded why it’s good for our general wellbeing to be hydrated, and on a long drive you can be behind a wheel for hours. Hydration can help keep you awake and alert; remember the motorway signs warning that tiredness can kill?

Recent research has revealed that more than two in three (67%) UK drivers fail to recognise the major symptoms of dehydration.
Symptoms include slower reaction times, loss of focus and muscle cramps – potentially putting drivers and others at risk.

Driver error accounts for more than two thirds (68 per cent) of vehicle crashes in the UK.

With the potential loss in concentration and focus caused by dehydration, drivers could run into harm behind the wheel.

Health authorities recommend drinking around two litres of water a day.

Driving on our ever more congested network is a task that requires full concentration.

Not surprisingly the vast majority of drivers believe that drink driving is more dangerous than dehydrated driving. We all know don’t we that we don’t function at work very well if we don’t drink water during the day. We get tired, lose concentration, get fractious and impatient and why wouldn’t it be the same behind the wheel?

When police interview drivers suspected of driving dangerously or very carelessly they always ask searching questions such as:

  • Were you taking any medication properly?
  • Did you take a proper period of sleep before a long drive?
  • Did you drive whilst tired;
  • Did you take any breaks?

I have dealt with quite a few instances where driving has clearly affected by lack of fluid and food, leading to loss of concentration and even blackouts. Drivers need to be aware that the DVLA receives reports in such circumstances and it can lead to licence revocation in serious cases.

Hydration is worth keeping in mind. Take more water with it.

Tougher Motoring Penalties On The Way

Causing death by dangerous or careless driving are very serious offences and the sentences are going to get tougher.

There is also likely to be a new offence created of causing serious injury by careless driving.

Further, the Government is looking at a law change to deal with dangerous cycling, so it’s going to be a busy time for everyone involved in this as the changes are brought in.

Ministers have this month confirmed plans to introduce tougher sentences for those who drive irresponsibly and devastate lives.

  • life sentences will be introduced for those who cause death by dangerous driving, and for careless drivers who kill while under the influence of drink or drugs
  • new offence of causing serious injury through careless driving to be created
  • part of government action to make roads safer for all and stop devastation caused by dangerous drivers and cyclists

Those causing fatalities face life behind bars after plans to increase maximum sentences received resounding support from families and campaigners.

Ministers have confirmed that drivers who cause death by speeding, racing, or using a mobile phone could face sentences equivalent to manslaughter, with maximum penalties raised from 14 years to life.

Offenders who cause death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs will also face life sentences, and a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving will be created.

The move comes after an overwhelming response to a government consultation which revealed substantial backing for the plans from a wide range of people including victims, bereaved families and road safety experts.

New Fixed Penalty for Mobile Phone Offences

On the 1 March 2017 the Fixed Penalty (Amendment) Order 2017 comes into effect and applies to offences committed on and after that date.

It applies to the use of hand-held mobile telephones and to other hand-held interactive communication devices while driving. The new fixed penalty will be £200 and 6 penalty points and it applies to all categories of driver whether car, van or HGV.
It remains a matter for the police to decide whether a particular offence merits an offer of a fixed penalty or is too serious and needs to go to court.

The Order was made following a consultation by the Department for Transport which concluded on November 2016. The overwhelming majority of responses were in favour of a significant increase in penalty, in many instances higher than the one to be implemented. It is entirely possible that this is something of an interim measure to see if driver behaviour responds to the message and improves. If it doesn’t, sentencing could change again, but for now it’s going to be a case of two strikes and off the road for 6 months.

Speeding fines to go up in April 2017

The Sentencing Council which provides guidance to the Courts on how to sentence speeding motorists (as well as all other offences) has just released new guidance, effective from the 24 April 2017 and drivers need to be aware of this. Magistrates Courts will impose much higher fines for serious offenders and it could come as a serious surprise to many. In Kent alone the Clacket Lane cameras on the M25 catch a substantial number of drivers exceeding 100 mph by a comfortable margin, and they will face much tougher sanctions.

Current sentencing explained

This is often a mystery to people and best explained with a simple table.

 

Speed Limit (mph) Recorded Speed (mph)  
20 41 and above 31-40 21-30
30 51 and above 41-50 31-40
40 66 and above 56-65 41-55
50 76 and above 66-75 51-65
60 91 and above 81-90 61-80
70 101 and above 91-100 71-90
Sentencing Range  Band B Fine Band B Fine Band A Fine
Points/Disqualification

Disqualification for 7-56 days

OR 6 points

Disqualification for 7-28 days

OR 4-6 points

3 points

 

The maximum fine for speeding on a motorway is £2,500 and elsewhere its £1,000. These will not change. Penalty points range from 3 to 6 and for higher speeds the court has a discretion to disqualify as well as fine. Penalty points remain the same.

Drivers who plead guilty at the first available opportunity will receive a one third reduction in fine.

Applicable speed limits are divided into sections as the table above shows. Fines are assessed when the court considers a driver’s financial circumstances. Everyone has to fill out a means form. Currently, high speeders receive a Band B fine which is between 75% and 125% of relevant earnings. For those in work as employees or self employed, relevant earnings are what’s left from weekly earnings after tax. The starting point is 100% and the court goes up or down depending on the absence or presence of aggravating circumstances, such as poor weather, heavy traffic, carrying a passenger, bad driving along with high speed, and of course previous convictions.

With effect from 24 April 2017 the fine for the highest bracket will go up from a Band B fine to a Band C fine for which the starting point is 150% of relevant earnings.

The courts can of course go above that if they want to, and I believe they will. The change is a clear encouragement to become much tougher on offenders. This has been slowly happening for quite some time anyway, but this makes it much more formal. With increased penalties for mobile telephone use, you can see the clear trend.

What seems likely is that more maximum fines will be imposed by the Courts.

Drivers have 3 months to understand the changes before they bite, as they surely will.

Mobile telephones…the new drink drive?

Using mobiles when drivingFew can now doubt the seriousness of using a hand held device whilst driving.

Last week I contributed to a debate on BBC Radio 3 Counties following the tragic deaths of Tracey Houghton, her sons Ethan and Josh, and her stepdaughter Aimee Goldsmith when a truck driven by Tomasz Kroker smashed into the vehicle in which they were travelling. His cab camera showed he was using his mobile device to select music and was distracted. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

In September 2016 I was interviewed by BBC South East on the same subject following the release of mobile device prosecution statistics from Police Forces across England and Wales under a Freedom of Information Act request.

Even China is planning to introduce new laws making it illegal to do this, having recognised the carnage it has caused on its overcrowded roads. In August I was interviewed by China State TV to describe the law we have here and how it works. It is easy to describe what the law says, but it is not so easy to convincingly describe how transgressors are caught and prosecuted.

Sadly, the case of Tracey Houghton and her family is not isolated as there have been many cases before the courts where drivers using mobile devices have caused death and serious injury.

It has been against the law to use a hand held mobile telephone or an interactive device that sends or receives data since 2003 when existing legislation was extended to embrace multifunction devices such as smart phones and tablets. Using a simple mobile telephone has been against the law for much longer and yet the problem seems to have reached epidemic proportions. On any journey by road there is every chance you will see a number of drivers or cars and trucks performing all kinds of manoeuvres with phones clasped to their ears, or apparently texting.

Drink driving succeeded in becoming socially unacceptable with those caught being stigmatised. It is time to do the same for mobile device use.

The Government has plainly recognised there is a problem because it is planning to double the Fixed Penalty from £100 to £200 and from 3 to 6 penalty points. It is true therefore that two such offences in three years will very likely see drivers disqualified for 6 months, but is it enough, and what are the chances of being caught? Sometimes it seems that drivers are only caught as a result of being involved in accidents and a routine police inspection of the telephone. Otherwise its being seen by police, and that is plainly not happening enough. Causing death or serious injury by dangerous driving where the driving involves the use of a mobile device invariably carries a lengthy jail term, and has been increased from 10 to 14 years. 

I think most drivers who use devices see the chances of being caught as so low that they break the law with impunity. A sea change in attitude is needed.

There is an alarming lack of understanding of what the law says. It is illegal to use a hand held device to conduct a conversation or to receive or send data. The device will be treated as being hand held if it has to be held in the hand to perform its function. It doesn’t actually have to be held in the hand. So for example if it’s on the passenger seat and you use a finger or two to press a function button, you commit the offence.

It’s also an offence for a qualified driver to use a mobile device whilst supervising a learner driver, and it’s an offence for a passenger to hold a device up for a driver to use. There is little room for misunderstanding.

Figures for the last 4 years reveal that across England and Wales the number of drivers caught for using mobile phones reduced from a total of 178,879 to 94,606. That is a reduction of 47%, and is astonishing. Of those caught, some received fixed penalties and others were sent on a training course. The figures show that around 70% were sent on a training course and the remainder received a fixed penalty.

Research has shown that there are an increasing number of drivers who think its ok to make a quick call or to check incoming texts. I imagine most of those drivers would not dream of taking the same attitude with alcohol, and yet is is well known that drivers on the phone pose a greater risk than those who have consumed low levels of alcohol. There is a lack of fear of being caught or even punished. Attitudes to drink driving were successfully changed over time and yet 10 to 15 years after it first became unlawful to use a mobile telephone whilst driving, the problem is getting worse and shows little sign of changing.

Four innocent people died when they were crushed by a truck driven by Tomasz Kroker who was checking his music. It is the most recent and shocking example of a widespread problem. It took but a few seconds for this to happen. The Judge rightly described him as turning his lorry into a killing machine, but everyone who uses a device whilst driving does the same.

Police plainly need to do more with those caught and to make it a much higher priority. To send such a high proportion on educational courses arguably sends the wrong message. Drivers see the risk of punishment as low and that needs to be addressed.

Above all attitudes need to change. And it’s not just the attitude of the driver. We all have a responsibility to educate and to intervene when we can. How often are drivers seen using phones, with passengers sat next to them apparently doing nothing? I have seen instances of driver and passnger using their phones!

Employers too need to make it plain they will not condone such behaviour or require employees to take calls whilst driving.

Unless this issue is addressed in the same way as drink driving was, there will be more serious injuries and fatalities.

Drink driving - all change?

BrethalyserWhat's Happening?

So, the Government is looking at a change in the drink drive limit and will be considering how the reduction in Scotland in December 2014 has worked out over the last year or so.

Many Scots apparently believe that drinking any alcohol before driving is not acceptable and is likely to result in a breath test failure. It will be remembered that the level in blood was reduced from 80 to 50, and my guess is that England and Wales will follow suit before the end of this year.

Why is it happening?

It is illogical to have one level in Scotland and a higher one elsewhere. Secondly, most of Europe has lower levels than England and Wales and we stand in almost glorious isolation. Thirdly, all the research one reads tells us that current levels are too high and that lowering them will save lives.

The Transport Minister Andrew Jones is said to be looking at whether the law change in Scotland was a success, and he is bound to be shown by his Scottish counterpart that it was. Apparently the number of drink driving offences in Scotland has fallen significantly since the level was lowered with a fall of something like 12.5 per cent. That is a significant figure. I anticipate that with a lower level drivers have realised they cannot afford to consume very much at all, whereas in the rest of the UK people still guess at around a couple of drinks. If you lower the limit like this you make guessing so risky that drivers are less likely to do it.
It also brings drink driving back high on the agenda at a time when it needs to. It will follow hot on the heels of the new drug driving offences introduced in March 2015. It will be as hugely significant change if it happens. Scotland introduced it pretty quickly and it needs only a minor piece of change in the legislation.

It will mean drivers have to be very careful not only on the night or lunchtime out, but also the morning after.
The other big change I predict this year will be a big hike in the penalty for using a mobile phone, but that’s another story.

Foreign speeders get away with it

Recently I took part in a very interesting BBC Radio Kent broadcast on the subject of how many foreign registered vehicles caught speeding by camera are avoiding prosecution. These statistics are staggering and will come as a surprise to many people.

Information provided by Kent Police pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that the number of foreign registered vehicles detected committing speeding offences by both fixed and mobile speed cameras that resulted in no further action being taken was as follows:

Year Number of foreign Vehicles Highest Recorded Speed of Foreign Vehicle
2013 1516 121 mph
2014 1885 113 mph
2015 3050 121 mph

 

The year runs from the 1 January to 20 December, and so it will be interesting to see whether these statistics get any worse by December 2016.

Everyone will recognise that high speeds like this, as well as the numbers themselves, pose a serious road safety risk to everyone. Police say that they have had discussions with French authorities about the issues, but that the differences in legislation make it impossible to take any positive action. The inability to trace the registered keeper means that Notices of Intended Prosecution cannot be sent out and there is apparently no mechanism in such cases to find out who the driver was. It means that significant numbers of drivers of foreign registered vehicles are literally getting away with it.

At such speeds UK drivers will almost certainly be facing a lengthy period of disqualification, as well as costs and fines.

The Road Safety Act 2006 introduced regulations which permitted suitably qualified police officers to issue what are called Summons Roadside Deposit Notices, or Roadside Deposit Notices. The process is available when a police officer stops a speeding vehicle (or one committing other offences as the process is not confined to speeding) and is able to identify the driver. If the speed access is relatively modest a Roadside Deposit Notice can be issued requiring the driver to pay cash equivalent to a fixed penalty notice of £100. That money is paid to the court service. If the speed excess is very high, such as would warrant a summons, a Summons Roadside Deposit Notice can be issued requiring the payment of a much higher sum. If the driver cannot or will not make a payment, he can be stopped from travelling further.

The payments are intended to secure the drivers prosecution.

However, in contrast to the number of vehicles escaping prosecution, the number of vehicles issued with such notices during the same three years was as follows:

Year Number of foreign Vehicles Highest Recorded Speed of Foreign Vehicle
2013 101 123 mph
2014 105 113 mph
2015 88 112 mph

 

It is not known whether drivers stopped were issued with notices requiring them to pay modest £100 deposits, or significantly higher sums. Again, the high speeds detected pose a serious risk to other road users. For the year 2015, Kent police were able to deal in this way with between only 2% or 3% of offenders.

So when you see foreign registered vehicles passing you by on the M20 at very high speed, you will know that the chances are they will be getting away with it.

I don’t suppose for a moment this problem is confined to Kent, although it has to be said that as a county it has more road connections with Europe than any other counties. The regulations made pursuant to the Road Safety Act 2006 represented the U.K.’s first step towards enabling police to take money from offending drivers, whereas in Europe police have been doing this for much longer. France, in particular, is well known for the very firm way its police officers take cash fines from offending drivers. Less well known is the power to issue immediate orders of disqualification and I have encountered a few UK drivers who have been caught out by this.

EU Police Forces have access to DVLA records and can and do chase registered keepers through the courts. They can instruct debt collection companies here who are only too happy to track down and take payment from keepers. Many EU countries have legislation that places liability with the registered keeper, whereas the UK does not.

Many will see this as unfair.

New Drug Driving Laws

New Drug Drive LawsDrivers are being warned about a new drug driving law due to come into force on March 2nd.

For the first time, it will allow motorists to be prosecuted for driving after having taken legal drugs, including popular flu and cold remedies -many drivers could easily find themselves accused of being over the drug drive limit simply by taking a powerful flu pick-me-up.

There's the possibility of a driver being investigated for being unfit to drive by taking legal prescribed drugs. For the first time, if you dose yourself up to get through the workday, the law will be able to prosecute you for being unfit to drive. I suspect the level of awareness about this among motorists is still very low.

The new legislation will also shift the burden to the driver to show they followed the instructions on the box of the prescribed drug.

The new law is based on a list of legal and illegal drugs. It will include common contents of prescription drugs that can be taken legally - but which could put you over the limit if the instructions aren’t followed.

No one can condone drink or drug driving but there does need to be an awareness of the legal framework that applies in all such cases. 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.

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.

The move comes as police get new powers for roadside drug testing involving the use of 'spitalysers’ - hand-held drug drive testing devices. These allow officers ti carry out tests that indicate if a driver has taken cannabis.

One thing is certain, it will be complicated and it will catch people out….particularly the legal over-the-counter drugs or treatments containing morphine, methadone, diazepam, etc. People just won’t think after dosing up with whatever cold or flu treatment they use and the police will be very keen to use the new law. Manufacturers will need to make clear that driving is not advised before a certain time has passed; drivers will need to read the label and really follow the advice. This is all brave new territory.

The new offence of ‘driving, attempting to drive or being in charge of a motor vehicle with a specified controlled drug in the blood or urine in excess of the specified limit for that drug’ comes into force on March 2nd, 2015. Penalties are the same as for drink driving: a minimum 12 month ban plus a possible fine and prison term.

The drugs included in the new law and the legal limits are:

 

Illicit Drugs Limit Prescription drugs Limit
Benzoylecgonine 50 µg/L 50 µg/L Clonazepam 50 µg/L
Cocaine 10 µg/L Diazepam 550 µg/L
Delta–9–tetrahydrocannabinol (cannabis and cannabinol) 2 µg/L Flunitrazepam 300 µg/L
Ketamine 20 µg/L Lorazepam 100 µg/L
Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) 1 µg/L Methadone 500 µg/L
Methylamphetamine 10 µg/L Morphine 80 µg/L
Methylenedioxymethaphetamine (MDMA – ecstasy) 10 µg/L Oxazepam 300 µg/L
6-monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM – heroin and diamorphine) 5 µg/L Temazepam 1000 µg/L

Tax or SORN

Tax or SORNNot many people know this….

There is a piece of legislation that seems to be increasingly catching people out. It’s not particularly obscure but DVLA has not exactly shouted about it.


In early 2011 a concept known as Continuous Insurance Enforcement was launched and a fixed penalty system was introduced to try and reduce insurance evasion. It is now an offence to be the Registered Keeper of an uninsured vehicle, and it’s the Keeper who gets the grief.


DVLA carries out searches of the Motor Insurance Database to see which vehicles are not insured. It compares them with its own database of vehicles to see if an offence has been committed.


If you are the registered keeper of a vehicle you must either insure it or declare it off road. Section 22 of the Road Safety Act 2006 imposes statutory insurance requirements on registered keepers and these apply even if the vehicle is incapable of being driven.


To give an example, I recently advised a client who had received a Summons from his local court in proceedings initiated by DVLA Enforcement Centre in Swansea. It alleged that a motorcycle that was registered in his name was not insured and that he was in breach of sections of the Road Traffic Act 1988 as a consequence.


He was surprised to receive the summons because the bike had been written off in an accident some months previously and was effectively in bits in his garage. It was not capable of being ridden and he had not got round to disposing of the parts.


Shortly after the accident he cancelled the insurance policy and claimed a refund. He sensibly thought what was the point in having an immovable bike insured for third party risks if it was never going on the road?


Given its state he gave no thought to declaring it “off road” by completing a Statutory Off Road Notification.


What he did not know was that DVLA carried out a check after he cancelled the policy to see if it had been declared off road. It hadn’t, and DVLA sent the owner a fixed penalty notice followed by a summons to appear in court.


The summons was based on a failure to either insure, or declare off road. I am aware of a few people who have been caught out by this, thinking understandably that it’s a waste of money to insure an immovable vehicle but overlooking the need now to complete a SORN.


Until 2011 it didn’t matter what you did, but now it has to be one or the other and DVLA are picking up on these omissions and starting proceedings. I am aware from seeing papers in these cases that they are not accepting ignorance of the law as an excuse, so beware.

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