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New Drug-Driving Offence to be Introduced in Scotland

The Scottish Government has recently announced plans to introduce drug-driving limits and roadside testing in Scotland.

Current Position

Scotland already takes a tough stance on drink-driving, with the lowest drink-driving limits in the UK, and now plans to build on this with measures to curb the growing prevalence of drug driving.

Under the current law, it is an offence to be in charge of a motor vehicle while unfit to drive through drink or drugs. Penalties for this offence, which are reserved to Westminster, include a minimum 12-month driving ban, up to six months in prison and a fine of up to a £5,000. 

New Drug Driving Offence

This offence will continue to operate, but the Scottish Government plans to introduce new drug-driving limits that will allow prosecutions where different drug types above specified levels are detected. This should mean it is easier to hold drug-drivers to account as there will be no requirement to prove that someone was driving in an impaired manner. The new offence will carry the same maximum penalties as the current offence.

“This Government prioritised lowering the drink-driving limit in 2014 with evidence showing greater numbers of lives lost on our roads due to drink-driving than drug-driving,” commented Cabinet Secretary for Justice Michael Matheson. “With the lower blood-alcohol limit well established, I want to give our law enforcement agencies enhanced powers to tackle drug-driving and so make our roads even safer.”

“While it is a long-standing offence to drive while impaired by drugs, by introducing new drug driving limits and roadside testing for the presence of drugs, we will strengthen the ability of our police and prosecutors to tackle the minority of drivers who recklessly put other road-users and themselves at risk,” he added.

“Under the new offence, evidence of impaired driving will not be required with our law enforcement agencies instead able to investigate and prosecute on the basis of a driver being above the specified limits for individual drug types,” he said.

The Scottish Government is apparently conducting discussions with Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority and the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service on the operational requirements, including how roadside testing can be put in place.  Ministers intend to lay regulations by the end of 2017 for approval by MSPs, with implementation, including the need to have the necessary testing equipment in place, expected in 2019.

Pressure on the Government

The Scottish Government had faced calls to follow the example south of border and introduce a zero tolerance drug-driving bad.

According to road safety charity Brake, which had recently urged the Scottish Government to act on the issue, drug-driving arrests have soared since a drug- driving ban was introduced in England and Wales in 2015. Between March 2015 and April 2016 almost 8,000 people were arrested for the offence and the number of convictions for careless driving under the influence of drugs also rose from 1,039 in 2014 to 1,490 in 2015.

The latest available UK figures, from 2015, show that 62 fatal crashes were a result of impairment by illicit drugs. In a survey last year by Brake and Direct Line, 7% of respondents admitted to driving while under the influence of drugs, with over half doing so on a weekly basis.

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For expert legal advice on drug or drink driving charges then contact our specialist criminal defence lawyers today.