Exactly one month ago, a new drug-driving law came into force on March 2nd in the UK, which gave the police new powers to arrest vehicle drivers found to have an illegal level of drugs in their bloodstream.
Many believed that there would a jump in the number of criminal convictions and motoring organisations were concerned that the lives of ordinary people who rely on taking daily medication for health reasons, would be ruined. Even the Greater Manchester police, one of Britain’s biggest forces decided it would wait until all necessary procedures and training were in place.
Nearly 10 million people – around 4 per cent – are estimated to drive under the influence of illegal drugs, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 2013. The numbers are around a third of the estimated 29 million people or nearly 11 per cent of people reported driving under the influence of alcohol in the same period. Nevertheless, it’s clear that the lives of pedestrians and other road users were potentially being put at risk – and that includes the driver.
There is a long standing myth among some regular users that driving under the influence of a so-called “soft drug”, say cannabis, was not comparable to getting behind the wheel after drinking a quantity of alcohol. Roadside testing for both drugs and alcohol has also been notoriously inconsistent and it was difficult to measure exactly how drug intoxication was responsible for driving accidents. According to a 2009 study by the NHTSA, just under one in five (18 per cent) of fatally injured drivers tested positive for “at least one illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter drug.”
So how has the new law worked out in its first month of operation?
While many were concerned that prescription drug users would be unfairly caught up in police roadside campaigns and even penalised, the numbers so far indicate that this has far from happened.
A total of 19 people have been arrested for drug-driving offences, mostly males aged under 30, according to latest available data from the Department for Transport. Of these, seventeen cases involved cannabis and the remaining two were for cocaine. Arrests were made by the Metropolitan Police, in Greater Manchester, South Yorkshire, and in Surrey and Sussex where eight men were arrested in the first week of the new law coming into force.
Despite eight prescription drugs being included within the new law – the limits exceed normal prescribed doses. Most people will be able to drive as normal as long as the medication is taken in accordance with a doctor’s prescription and their driving is not impaired.
High risk behaviour often unrecognised
If a driver is convicted of drug driving they’ll receive a minimum 1 year driving ban, a fine of up to £5,000, up to a year in prison and a criminal record , which shows on their driving licence and lasts 11 years.
Just as with the history of alcohol driving, there is a level of high risk behaviour that is often unrecognised or flatly denied by the drug user, who may simply not foresee the consequences of their actions. The new law aims to prevent an accident and injury occurring to them as well as their passengers, pedestrians and other vehicle drivers.