There is at present no specific offence of drug driving. The police aim to demonstrate that you were driving whilst unfit. The impairment of the ability to drive can be brought about by illegal drugs, legal highs or even prescription medication. The consequences of a successful prosecution can be very serious.
The police will charge you for 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 your driving was impaired as a consequence. The police may have observed your driving, or you may 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.
The consequences can be serious.
The charge can be based on drugs that are legal as well as illegal, and so driving after taking prescribed medication or medication purchased from a pharmacist can cause you serious difficulty if the drugs impair your driving. “Drug” includes any intoxicant other than alcohol and means something that affects the self control of your body.
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. This year (2014) eleven police forces in England and Wales are going to trial a device dubbed a “spitalyser” to test the saliva of motorists suspected of taking cannabis. There is expected to be new legislation targeting motorists who have taken drugs. At present the police must show that the driving was impaired in some way, and that is not always easy. That is likely to change to bring it into line with drink driving which requires no evidence of impairment.
It may however create 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.
There remains a problem with drugs other than cannabis.
The first issue is whether the substance taken is a ‘drug’. Apart from the obvious, this is very widely defined to include a substance used as a medicine, something to cure or to assist someone who is unwell. Painkillers are “drugs” but people react differently to different quantities.
Before someone can be convicted a Court must be satisfied on the evidence that:
- The driver was unfit to drive through drugs; and
- His driving was impaired.
The burden of proof is on the prosecution.
What happens at the roadside?
Cases I have dealt with have started life with a driver being followed and questionable driving being observed either by police or other motorists. In one instance it was as simple as observing the vehicle swerving from one side of the road to the other, and in another the driver was reported for aggressive driving accompanied by some colourful hand signals.
This was the “impairment.”
Sometimes drivers are required to carry out a series of tests in what is called a Field Impairment Test. The eyes are checked for pupil dilation and tests are performed assessing balance, walking and turning in a straight line, standing on one leg and putting finger to nose with head titled back and eyes closed.
The Field Impairment Test does not have to be carried out at the road side and is commonly carried out at the police station. Performance is marked and an assessment made.
The police may require you to provide a sample of blood or urine for analysis.
The sample taken will be sent away for testing and you should be given some of the sample to have tested yourself. This needs to be done quickly because blood in particular deteriorates very quickly and becomes unusable. If you want help with an analyst let me know.
You can refuse, but if you do so without a reasonable excuse you will commit the offence of failing to provide a sample. That will likely lead to a disqualification.
The charge can be brought against anyone who has taken legal or illegal drugs and whose driving was impaired as a consequence. Prescribed or purchased medications will usually warn of side effects such as drowsiness and the impact this might have on driving.
It is essential to know and assess exactly what you consumed and when in order to judge whether that had a negative impact on your driving.
What to do if you are charged.
A charge of drug driving is extremely serious and the Government and police are determined to focus heavily on it over the years ahead. It can mean prison and if someone is killed or seriously injured as a consequence prison is almost a certainty. I will be happy to talk things through with you informally to begin with before you decide whether or not to instruct me.