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Drug Driving – Prosecutions soar!

Published on 19 June 2017 | Modified on 19 June 2017

Written by Stacey Bennett

March 2015 saw the introduction on a new law concerning driving whilst under the influence of controlled drugs. These cases have continued to come before the Court with growing regularity. From 2015 to 2016 the rise in arrests was 800% in Cheshire and this rise has not abated in 2017.

The Law – Zero Tolerance

Under the new drug driving law there is no requirement to show that a person is unfit to drive through drugs.  Similarly to the drink driving laws, if a person now exceeds the limit of a controlled drug within their body whilst driving (or being in charge of) a motor vehicle, they shall be guilty of the offence of drug driving irrespective of the actual effect of the drug on their ability to drive.

Essentially the new law makes it easier for drug drivers to be prosecuted.

There is a zero tolerance approach to most illegal substances such as cocaine, LSD, ketamine, ecstasy, heroine and cannabis, and such substances can still be detected long after any impairment to the person’s driving ability has worn off.  How long it will take for these drugs to be removed from someone’s system all depends on the individual, which drug, how much has been taken, and how often it has been taken.  For example, a one time use of cannabis can take up to 3 days to leave a person’s system – it is unlikely that a person’s driving would be impaired 2 days later, but under the new law that person could still be guilty of a drug driving offence.

Prescription Drugs

The new law also applies to certain prescription drugs, in particular diazepam, methadone, temazapam, oxazepam, morphine, lorazepam, flunitrazepam, clonazepam. If a person drives whilst the level of any of these drugs in their body, despite being prescribed by their Doctor, is above the level prescribed by the new law, then they could be guilty of drug driving. Crucially, however, under the new law there is a defence that can be raised, namely that they have taken the medication as prescribed by their doctor or dentist, in accordance with their instructions, and in accordance with any instructions in the accompanying leaflets to the medication.

It will therefore be important for drivers in receipt of prescription medication to keep any leaflets with their medication. That said, the reality is that the police will be much more interested in targeting young drivers they suspect of taking illegal drugs than someone accidentally exceeding the stated dose of their prescription medication….and in all cases the Crown Prosecution Service will only prosecute if it is in the public interest to do so.


At present there are no sentencing guidelines for drug driving cases. Until guidelines are published, the courts will have a wide discretion when it comes to sentencing. A person found guilty of drug driving will be facing a minimum mandatory disqualification of 12 months and up to 6 months imprisonment.  In most Courts, the convention thus far has been to disqualify for the minimum 12 months irrespective of the level of drug in the body and only increase the ban if there are other aggravating features in relation to the offence (eg a collision, driving on the Motorway etc.)

If you find yourself facing an allegation of drug driving, or any other motoring offence, you need legal advice.  Contact one of our experienced road traffic solicitors who will be able to give you the expert advice you need.


Hannah Kelly

Hannah is a solicitor at Poole Alcock and part of the Criminal Defence Team. She is a duty solicitor qualified for both Police station and Magistrates Court representation with years of experience of defending clients accused of criminal and road traffic offences.

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