A new law comes into force this week that makes it illegal to drive under the influence of certain drugs for the first time.
The new legislation makes it easier for police forces to target drug-drivers because the law now sets limits for certain drugs, meaning police can test drivers for drugs in a similar way to how they currently test for alcohol.
Police in West Yorkshire are also starting to use a new testing kit, which means they can quickly and accurately test for the presence of cannabis and cocaine at the roadside. In a first for the force, the new kit means anyone suspected of driving while under the influence of drugs can be quickly tested with a saliva swab and then arrested if the test proves positive. Previously, the offence of driving while unfit through drugs would be used to prosecute drivers, but the new laws are in addition to this existing offence.
Inspector Joanne Field, who leads West Yorkshire Police’s roads policing unit, welcomed the new legislation, adding: “The change in law with set limits for both illegal and some powerful legal drugs makes the process of tackling those who put lives at risk by drug-driving simpler by enabling us to test for the two most common illegal drugs at the roadside.
“The influence that drugs, both illegal and medication prescribed by a doctor, can significantly impair someone’s ability to drive and put your life as well as those of other road users in significant danger- just like drink-driving.”
Limits are set at very low levels for eight illegal drugs including cannabis and cocaine while some legally prescribed drugs including diazepam and methadone are also included as certain strong medication can affect people’s ability to drive.
Class A cocaine and class B cannabis have been deliberately chosen as they have been found to be the most prolific drugs used by those drug-driving and can have significant levels of impairment when it comes to people’s ability to drive.
Insp Field added: “Cannabis and cocaine are the most common illegal drugs used by people who drug-drive and this new legislation increases our ability to identify and arrest people who drive with illegal drugs in their system.
“Because the new law also sets limits for types of legal drugs it’s vital that anyone taking prescribed medication reads the instructions carefully and sticks to the prescribed dosage. If you have any concerns regarding the impact any medication may have on your ability to drive, please speak to your doctor before you get behind the wheel.
“A drug-driving conviction will result in a criminal record, a minimum 12-month driving ban, a fine of up to £5,000 and up to six months in prison or both. It’s not worth the risk.”
Mark Burns-Williamson, the Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire, said: “Driving after taking illegal drugs and some medications can have devastating consequences and can easily result in loss of life.
“All too often the police and other emergency services attend road traffic incidents which have life changing impacts on families.
“Please keep yourself, your family and others safe on the roads.
“As long as drivers stay within the prescribed levels, most people will still be able to get behind the wheel of a car, but I would advise anyone who is unsure about the effects of their medication or how the new legislation may affect them, to seek the advice of their doctor or pharmacist.”
For more information on the new drug-driving legislation can be found at: think.direct.gov.uk/drug-driving.