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New UK Drug Driving Laws

Special Reports

Which substances are limited and what are the consequences?

New regulations aimed at stopping people driving while on drugs have come into force in England and Wales. The new rules run alongside the existing law, under which it is an offence to drive when impaired by any drug.

The legislation came into effect on the day that a driver who took cocaine and cannabis before crashing his car into a tree and killing two of his friends was jailed for four years.

Owen Clements was speeding and on the wrong side of the road when his VW Golf veered off the road in Llanrhidian, Gower. Swansea Crown Court heard that Jonathan Knoedl, 22, and James Holder, 17, died in the September 2012 crash. Clements, 27, of Lougher, Swansea, was found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving by a jury. Clements denied he was to blame and told police he had swerved around a badger. But a blood sample taken more than three-and-a-half hours after he was taken to hospital showed traces of cannabis and cocaine in his system.

Which drugs does the ban include?

Drivers are to expect prosecution if they are caught having used illegal drugs such as ketamine, LSD, cocaine, cannabis and heroin. Or if they exceed the new limits for nine prescription drugs.

Nine prescription drugs so far have legal limits set per litre of blood.

These are:

Clonazepam is prescribed to treat seizures or panic disorders, 50μg/L.

Diazepam is used for anxiety disorders, alcohol withdrawal symptoms or muscle spasms, 550μg/L.

Flunitrazepam (also known as Rohypnol) is a sedative originally used in hospitals for deep sedation in the 1970s, 300μg/L.

Lorazepam is used to treat convulsions or seizures caused by epilepsy, 100μg/L.

Oxazepam is used to relieve anxiety, including anxiety caused by alcohol withdrawal, 300μg/L.

Temazepam affects chemicals in the brain that may become unbalanced and cause insomnia problems, 1,000μg/L.

Methadone is used in the treatment of heroin addiction and for pain relief, 500μg/L.

Morphine or opiates treat moderate to severe pain 80μg/L.

What if you take a listed prescribed drug?

Government guidelines state that medication should be taken as advised by a doctor and driving should only be done within the limits outlined. Proof of using the specific legal drug, such as the container, should be kept in the car in case of being stopped by police.


Police will be able to use "drugalysers" to screen for cannabis and cocaine at the roadside. With low levels for the eight illegal drugs, and higher levels set for eight prescription drugs. Those using prescription drugs within recommended amounts will not be penalised.

The “drugalysers” will work similar to breathalysers. Apart from using the "drugalysers", officers can test for various drugs including ecstasy, LSD, ketamine and heroin at a police station, even if a driver passes the roadside check.

The police can also enforce a ‘field impairment
assessment’ if they think you’re on drugs. This is a
series of tests, eg asking you to walk in a straight line.

If they think you’re unfit to drive because of taking drugs, you’ll be arrested and will have to take a blood or urine test at a police station.

What are the consequences?

The penalties for drug-driving are the same as for drink-driving. A conviction could carry up to a minimum 12-month driving ban, a criminal record, a fine of up to £5000 or up to 6 months in prison or both.Your driving licence will also show you’ve been convicted for drug driving. This will last for 11 years. Your car insurance costs will increase significantly and your employer will see your conviction on your licence. You may have trouble travelling to countries like the USA.

The penalty for causing death by dangerous driving under the influence of drugs is a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

The law doesn’t cover Northern Ireland and Scotland but you could still be arrested if you’re unfit to drive.

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