Filed under: Drugs, Forensics, UK Government Information, UK Legislation | Tags: forensics, illicit drugs, prescription drugs, testing
Tough new measures to crack down on the menace of drug driving moved a step closer today after the government issued new guidance to healthcare professionals. The new offence of driving with certain controlled drugs, including some prescription drugs, above specified limits is due to come into force on Monday 2nd March 2015 after the government presented the regulations to Parliament today, Thursday 3rd July. The guidance helps doctors and nurses to start explaining the new rules in advance of the launch and reassure patients who take prescription drugs that they will be able to drive safely without fear of being prosecuted.
The new advice, which has been developed with support from the medical profession, advises general practitioners, doctors, nurses and health advisers on the changes to the drug driving offence and what it means for patients.
Police can already prosecute drivers if they are driving whilst impaired by drugs, including medicinal drugs. The new rules will mean it will be an offence to be over the specified limits for each drug whilst driving, as it is with drink driving. The limits for the majority of medicinal drugs are above the normal doses. Unlike the existing ‘impairment’ offence, the new law provides a medical defence for patients who are taking their medicine in accordance with instructions – either from a healthcare professional or printed in the accompanying leaflet – provided, of course, they are not impaired.
The guidance, therefore, also advises patients who take legitimately supplied medicines to keep evidence with them in case they are stopped by police to help speed up any investigation into the medical defence and reduce the inconvenience to the patient. The new regulations will come into force at the same time as new equipment to test drivers for cannabis and cocaine at the roadside is expected to become available to the police. If a driver is tested positive they will be taken to a police station where a further evidential test will be taken, which, if positive will allow police to prosecute a driver for being over the limit.
The new offence will be introduced alongside major changes to drink-drive laws as part of the Deregulation Bill which will remove the right for drivers who fail a roadside breath test to demand a blood or urine sample at the police station. This test can take place several hours later, which means some drivers who were over the limit when tested at the roadside would have time to sober up. The Deregulation Bill is currently progressing through Parliament and is expected to receive Royal Assent at the end of the year. New mobile evidential breath testing instruments are also expected to be approved early in 2015 allowing police to take evidential breath tests at the roadside, helping to streamline enforcement and support police officers in making sure our roads are kept safe and free from drink and drug drivers. 2nd March is therefore the most suitable date to bring in all the provisions together. The police support this approach.
The Government Chemist contributed to the consultation process which has resulted in these guidelines and regulations being published. We are particularly interested in the implementation of evidential roadside breath testing devices – which require valid certified reference materials (CRMs) to be used to demonstrate their accuracy – and of roadside tests for cannabis and cocaine. These will also require CRMs to check their validity and must also be subject to testing to ensure that their performance characteristics are fully understood.
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