Driving while under the influence!

A government advertising campaign has started, telling people taking medicines to check with their doctor or pharmacist before driving.

It comes as new drug-drive legislation comes into force from 2 March in England and Wales.

The new law sets limits at very low levels for eight drugs commonly associated with illegal use, such as cannabis and cocaine.

There are also eight prescription drugs included within the new law.

What it means

The limits that have been set for these drugs exceed normal prescribed doses. This means that the vast majority of people can drive as they normally would, providing that they are taking their medicine in accordance with the advice of a healthcare professional and/or as printed in the accompanying leaflet, and their driving is not impaired.

But, and this is the big but, what if your drivers are taking more than the dose, either because they think it will help their condition, or because they have missed taking the medication and are ‘catching up’?

Worse, what about those who are using so-called ‘recreational’ drugs, even if it is during their days off, or holidays?

But it’s a serious matter. There has been at least one serious coach crash, in which it was discovered that one of the individuals involved had used cannabis. At the other end of the scale, there has been at least one serious coach crash in which an individual had been taking medicine after a cold, which was a factor.

Know the law

In Scotland, the lowered drink-drive level came in during December 2014, changing from the 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100ml of blood in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, to 50mg.

The 80 milligrams limit (the equivalent of 800,000 micrograms per litre) has remained unchanged since its introduction by the Road Safety Act 1967, which also gave the police powers to breath-test drivers suspected of drink driving.

Operators who run abroad will know that, apart from Malta, the 80mg limit is the highest in Europe, with 50mg being common (19 countries), reducing to 20mg or zero in most of the rest.

For drugs, there are two categories, illicit and prescription drugs.

The Government decided against a zero limit as certain medicinal drugs can be absorbed in the body and produce trace effects.

It also didn’t want to risk penalising drivers for accidental exposure to drugs, such as inhaling cannabis smoke in a public place.

The new legislation will give police the power to test and arrest drivers who are suspected of driving over the new levels. The drugs will be identified using a blood test.

Those convicted of drug-driving will get:

  • A minimum one-year driving ban
  • A fine up to £5,000
  • A criminal record
  • The driving licence will show a conviction for drug-driving and it will stay on there for 11 years.

The illegal drugs (and their limits) are:

  • Benzoylecgonine (found in cocaine): 50 micrograms per litre of blood (µg/l)
  • Cocaine: 10 µg/l
  • Delta-9-Tetrahydrocanabinol (cannabis and cannabinol): 2 µg/l
  • Ketamine: 20 µg/l
  • Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD): 1 µg/l
  • Methylamphetamine: 10 µg/l
  • MDMA (ecstasy): 10 µg/l
  • 6-Monoactetylmorphine (6-MAM-Heroin and Diamorphone): 5 µg/l

The prescription drugs and their limits are:

  • Clonazepam (used to treat seizures and panic disorder): 50 µg/l
  • Diazepam (anti-anxiety): 550 µg/l
  • Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol: sedative): 300 µg/l
  • Lorazepam (anti-anxiety): 100 µg/l
  • Methadone (heroin substitute): 500 µg/l
  • Morphine (pain relief): 80 µg/l
  • Oxazepam (anti-anxiety): 300 µg/l
  • Temazepam (anti-anxiety and sedative): 1,000 µg/l.
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