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What Is the Penalty for Drug Driving?

Since new legislation was introduced in 2015, the UK has adopted a zero-tolerance approach towards drug drivers. These new drug driving sentencing guidelines have brought the consequences for drug driving in line with those for drink driving, hopefully reducing the prevalence of this offence in the future.

However, at the moment, drug driving offences are still on the rise. According to Crimestoppers, drug driving reports increased by 110% between 2018 and 2021. If you want to avoid being part of this worrying statistic, here are the current UK laws on drug driving, the types of drug driving tests used and the penalties you could face if convicted.

Drug Driving Penalties

You can be convicted of drug driving if:

  • You’re unfit to drive through the use of legal or illegal drugs (e.g., the drugs affect your ability to drive due to slower reaction times or an increased likelihood of reckless behaviour).
  • You have certain levels of illegal drugs in your blood, even if these drugs have not impacted your ability to drive.

This will be determined through a series of drug driving tests (more on this below). If you fail these tests, you will then be taken to court and potentially convicted after aggravating and mitigating factors are considered.

Current drug driving sentencing guidelines in the UK state that this crime could result in:

  • A driving ban lasting a minimum of 1 year
  • An unlimited fine
  • Up to 6 months in prison
  • A criminal record

Another penalty for drug driving is increased car insurance costs, as your conviction will remain on your driving licence for 11 years. This could make it more difficult for you to travel to certain countries, such as the US. Of course, there’s also the real possibility that you could hurt or even kill someone while driving under the influence of drugs. In this case, you could go to prison for up to 14 years.

Illegal Drugs

Unlike legal or controlled drugs, there’s no acceptable amount of illegal drugs that can be present in your system while driving. This is why the UK’s drug driving laws are viewed as taking a zero-tolerance approach.

However, to rule out accidental exposure, there are very low limits set for various illegal drugs. For example, for cannabis, the limit is 2 micrograms of THC per litre of blood. With such a low limit, it’s possible for you to exceed this amount with just one puff on a joint.

Overall, for illegal drugs, simply having the drug present in your system while driving is enough for you to be charged with a drug driving offence. The police or the prosecution in court don’t have to prove that your driving was affected. Therefore, if you take drugs a few days before driving but you’re still over the specified limit, you could face a penalty for drug driving.

Legal Drugs

If you’re using legal drugs that have been prescribed by your doctor, you could still be convicted of drug driving if your driving is impaired. You could be unfit to drive if your medication slows your reaction times, makes you drowsy or affects your judgement. Make sure you always talk to your doctor if you’ve been prescribed a controlled drug so you can get advice on whether you should be able to drive.

Using prescription drugs without having a prescription could land you in trouble even if your driving isn’t affected. If you’re found to have more than the legal limit of a specified controlled drug in your blood while driving, this could lead to a conviction if you don’t have evidence of a prescription.

These drug driving limits are set at just above the normal dosage. Therefore, if you’ve been prescribed a high dosage of a drug and have been told by your doctor that you can drive, it’s a good idea to keep your prescription slip with you when you’re in the car.

Drug Driving Test

So, how do the police perform a drug driving test if they suspect you’re driving under the influence?

First of all, the police may pull you over if they notice erratic or dangerous driving. If they then suspect that you may be on drugs, they can perform a field impairment assessment. This could involve:

  • Measuring your pupils
  • Asking you to walk in a straight line
  • Asking you to stand on one leg
  • Asking you to touch your finger to your nose with your eyes closed
  • Using a roadside swab kit to test your saliva for traces of drugs

If you fail this field impairment assessment, you’ll be taken to the police station to perform a blood or urine test. If you refuse to provide a sample at the police station for this test, you could be charged with a Failure to Provide a Specimen offence.

Driving While High Consequences UK

Following this blood or urine test, you could find yourself in court if drugs were detected in your system, including illegal drugs, controlled drugs, prescription drugs or certain levels of over-the-counter medicines. If you’re found guilty of violating the UK’s drug driving law, you can expect to face the consequences listed earlier in this article.

However, if you have mitigating circumstances that you believe should be taken into account, then you’ll need the help of an experienced drug driving solicitor. At Drug Driving Solicitors, we can advise you of any defences that could be applied to your case, which could help you avoid drug driving penalties. With our expertise, you could join the hundreds of clients who’ve been acquitted of motoring offences. Contact Drug Driving Solicitors today for more information.