New drug driving limits will come into force in Scotland on Monday 21 October this year.
Drugs associated with medical use will have limits based on impairment and risk to road safety. The affected drugs are clonazepam; diazepam; flunitrazepam; lorazepam; methadone; morphine; oxazepam; and temazepam.
A separate approach will be taken to amphetamine, balancing its legitimate use for medical purposes against its abuse.
Any person taking medication in line with the prescription they have can claim the medical defence to the new offence. However, they can still be prosecuted under the existing impairment offence. If the prescription indicates that they should not drive while taking the medication then they are 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.
Currently, when police suspect drug driving, they can carry out the roadside field impairment test. If the individual fails the test this provides sufficient evidence to arrest and take the driver to a police station for further tests. A doctor must certify that the person is, in their opinion, impaired to the extent that they are unfit to drive.
However, there are currently no prescribed limits for controlled drugs. The UK Government introduced provision in the Crime and Courts Act 2013 which made it an offence to drive under the influence of different drug types when over a specified limit. The ability to provide specified limits for drugs is devolved, and so it has been for Scottish Ministers to decide whether there should be specified limits and, if so, what level these should be and for what drug types.
This will 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.
There will be a zero tolerance approach to eight drugs most associated with illegal use, including cannabis, heroin and cocaine, with limits set at a level where any claims of accidental exposure can be ruled out.