Taking the ‘high’ out of highway: the new anti drug driving laws

Penalty points
Legislation takes effect from today (Monday, March 2) which is designed to tackle illegal drug use among motorists and confront the drug driving problem.


But it could also lead to people who have been prescribed powerful anxiety or pain relief medicine testing positive behind the wheel. So even if you’ve never so much as smoked a joint (with or without inhaling!) in your life, you could end up with a drug-driving conviction. Let’s find out more about the new laws and how to ensure you don’t fall foul of them…

What’s going on?

From March 2, drivers will be breaking the law if they are found behind the wheel with illegal drugs including cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy in their bloodstreams. Illegal drug users are not the only ones who need to be aware of the drug-driving law coming into force, though. The rules also impose limits on the amount of eight prescription medicines such as diazepam, methadone and morphine that you can take before driving on UK roads. These limits are higher than those associated with the illegal drugs, and are designed to trap only those drivers abusing the medicines. The new rules don’t apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland, although you could be arrested there if you are deemed unfit to drive.

Taking your medicine

Robert Goodwill, road safety minister, said: “If you are taking your medicine as directed and your driving is not impaired, then you are not breaking the law and there is no need to worry.” Road safety campaigners have welcomed the introduction of limits on prescription medicines. Ed Morrow at road safety charity Brake said: "Many prescription medications can have a negative effect on your ability to drive safely, and there is a worrying lack of awareness of this among the public." However, there are fears that some people could be caught out – even though they are just taking medication prescribed by their doctor.

Which drugs and medicines are involved?

The drug-driving legislation coming in on March 2 includes new limits for eight illegal drugs and eight prescription medicines. The illegal drugs are:

  • Cannabis
  • BZE (metabolite of cocaine)
  • Heroin
  • LSD
  • Cocaine
  • Ecstasy
  • Ketamine
  • Methylamphetamine.

The prescription medicines are:

  • Morphine
  • Diazepam
  • Clonazepam
  • Flunitrazepam
  • Lorazepam
  • Oxazepam
  • Temazepam
  • Methadone.

How can I ensure I stay within the law?

When it comes to avoiding being caught driving under the influence of illegal drugs, the best advice is simply not to take them. That is not the approach people prescribed drugs by medical professionals should take, though. Professor David Taylor of the Department for Transport advisory panel on drug driving said: “Don’t stop taking your medicines, prescribed or otherwise, if you are worried about this new law. Instead, talk to your doctor or pharmacist for information about how your medicines might affect your ability to drive. “They’ll be happy to give you the advice you need to stay safe.”

Testing conditions

The drink and drug driving campaign THINK! also advises drivers who are taking prescribed medication at high doses to carry evidence with them, such as prescriptions slips, when driving in order to minimise any inconvenience should they be asked to take a test by the police. The government has said there will be a medical defence if a driver has been taking medication as directed and is found to be over the limit but not impaired.

Penalties for drug driving

If you’re convicted of drug driving you’ll get:

  • a minimum 1 year driving ban
  • a fine of up to £5,000
  • up to a year in prison
  • a criminal record

Your driving licence will also show you’ve been convicted for drug driving. This will last for 11 years. The penalty for causing death by dangerous driving under the influence of drugs is a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

A conviction for drug driving also means:

  • your car insurance costs will increase significantly
  • if you drive for work, your employer will see your conviction on your licence
  • you may have trouble travelling to countries such as the USA.


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