New law will tackle drivers who are ‘impaired’ by drugs

John Halewood Dodd.
John Halewood Dodd.

New laws came into force this week which aim to tackle the increasing number of drivers who are taking to the road whilst under the influence of drugs.

It has been an offence to drive whilst “impaired” by either drink or drugs for many years, but the new offences do not have the element of impairment, and as such are much easier to prove.

If the suspicions remained then a sample of blood or urine would be required and sent off for analysis.

Previously, if the police had a reasonable suspicion that a driver was impaired by a substance they had the power to carry out roadside procedures to determine whether those suspicions were substantiated.

In the vast majority of cases it would be alcohol that they would initially test for by way of a roadside breath test.

If this test was passed but the suspect was still exhibiting signs of being under the influence of something then the police would have to establish what that might be.

The officer could, if sufficiently qualified, then request the suspect to carry out impairment tests, such as standing on one leg, or walking in a straight line.

If the suspicions remained then a sample of blood or urine would be required and sent off for analysis.

Failure to provide such a sample, without reasonable excuse, is a criminal offence.

This process was expensive, time consuming, and the evidence was often open to challenge as to whether the driver was impaired by the drugs within their system.

The new offences have reduced the evidential burden significantly. From last Monday, a police officer who suspects a driver is under the influence of drugs can take roadside samples of saliva by way of a simple kit.

If sufficient quantities of the 16 drugs being searched for, some of which can be prescribed medication, are present then the initial test would be backed up by an evidential blood or urine test taken at the police station.

Many of these drugs stay within the system for days.

Therefore, the seemingly increasing number of people who take illicit drugs over the weekend could find themselves facing criminal charges without feeling that they are still affected by drugs taken.