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Motorists to face roadside drugs test

New drug driving laws to be introduced

Adrian O'Dowd

Monday, 14 October 2019

New laws to allow tests on people who may be driving unsafely while under the influence of drugs are being introduced next week in Scotland but provision has been made for prescribed medicines.

Under new regulations that come into force on 21 October, police will carry out testing by using mouth swabs for any motorist they suspect of drug driving or who has been involved in an accident or stopped for a traffic offence.

The idea is to make it easier to hold drug drivers to account as there will no longer be a requirement to prove that someone was driving in an impaired manner.

The Scottish government said there will be a zero tolerance approach to the eight drugs most associated with illegal use, including cannabis, heroin and cocaine.

Meanwhile, drugs associated with medical use will have limits based on impairment and road safety.

The eight drugs that will have a near zero limit (limits are not zero to allow for minor accidental exposure to such drugs) are:

  • benzoylecgonine
  • cocaine
  • delta–9–tetrahydrocannabinol (cannabis and cannabinol)
  • ketamine
  • lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)
  • methylamphetamine
  • methylenedioxymethaphetamine (MDMA – ecstasy)
  • 6-monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM – heroin and diamorphine).

The medicinal drugs which will have limits based on scientific evidence are:

  • clonazepam
  • diazepam
  • flunitrazepam
  • lorazepam
  • methadone
  • morphine
  • oxazepam
  • temazepam.

A separate approach is being taken to amphetamine, balancing its legitimate use for medical purposes against its abuse, said the Scottish government.

Any person taking medication in line with the prescription they have can claim the medical defence to the new offence.

However, they could still be prosecuted under the existing impairment offence if they were demonstrating impairment. If the prescription indicated that they should not drive while taking the medication, then they would be unable to claim the medical defence.

Existing law makes it an offence to be in charge of a motor vehicle while unfit to drive through drink or drugs, with the penalties – reserved to Westminster – being a minimum 12-month driving ban, up to six months in prison and a fine of up to £5,000.

The new offence of driving while above specified drug limits will operate alongside the current offence and carry with it the same maximum penalties.

Scotland’s justice secretary Humza Yousaf said: “Driving a vehicle while under the influence of drugs is simply not acceptable. The consequences of causing a collision while under the influence can be devastating.

“I am grateful to Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority, and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service for their hard work to prepare for the new laws coming into force.

“Alongside our stringent drink driving limits, these new curbs will ensure Scotland’s law enforcement agencies have the most robust powers in the UK to tackle impaired and unsafe driving in order to keep people safe.”

Chief superintendent Stewart Carle, head of road policing for Police Scotland, said: “With our partners, we are committed to reducing road casualties and deplore the devastating consequences of drug driving on victims, their families and communities.

“This new legislation gives the police powers to detect, at the roadside, those selfish motorists who risk the lives of others and themselves by driving after taking illegal substances.”

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