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Big changes coming to motoring laws in March

A new Drug Driving offence is coming into force in England and Wales on Monday 2nd March. The government is also launching a new online service to allow drivers charged with some motoring offences to enter their plea via a secure website.

Two changes to motoring laws are being introduced across England and Wales next week which could have a big effect on people who drive whilst on illegal or legal drugs and also those who have been charged with a summary motoring offence.

Here at Canter Levin & Berg Solicitors we decided to take a closer look at these changes and asked our Criminal Law Solicitors for their thoughts about what they might mean for motorists.

New Drug Driving Offence

From March 2nd 2015, a new offence of driving with certain drugs above specified limits will be coming into force in England and Wales. Previously, the laws against drug driving relied on a test of impairment, which meant that a person could be found guilty of an offence if their driving was actually impaired due to the drugs they had consumed.

The new drug driving laws have introduced strict limits which mean that an offence will have been committed if drugs are found in a motorist’s blood over a certain limit, regardless of whether their driving has been impaired as a result. 8 illegal and 8 legal drugs have been included in the named legislation and a specific individual limit has been set for each drug.

For the 8 illegal drugs, which include cannabis, MDMA, cocaine and heroin the limits have been set at very low levels, meaning that almost anyone with a trace of these drugs in their blood will exceed the legal limit.

8 legal drugs, including prescription medications such as morphine, diazepam and temazepam have also had limits set by the new law. The limits for these legal drugs have been set at a higher level, to allow for people who are taking them on prescription.

We asked Criminal Law Solicitor Pete Mitchell for his views on what the new laws would mean for motorists, including those currently taking any of the prescription drugs named in the new legislation:

“Whilst I’m in favour of reducing the incidence of drug driving, I’m concerned about the introduction of this new drug driving offence for a number of reasons. One of the big reservations I have over the introduction of the new offence is that Police officers will not have a practical method to test for the presence of the majority of the 16 drugs named in the legislation.

The new portable testing kits which have been supplied to the Police are only capable of detecting the presence of Cannabis & Cocaine, meaning that at the moment, there is no way to detect the other 14 drugs in a roadside test. We don't need these screening devices, they've cost a lot of money and in my view, and they’re not fit for purpose because they miss out on 14 of the 16 controlled substances.

My other reservation concerns the eight prescription drugs named in the legislation. The new law doesn’t specifically ban people on these medications from driving, but it does set out upper limits for the amount of these drugs you can have in your blood. I think a lot of people who are taking these drugs on prescription will be concerned that they could end up on the wrong side of the law.

For example if you're taking diazepam for depression, you're going to want to know from your doctor how long it is going to stay in your system and what your prescribed dose will equate to in a blood sample?”

Full details of the new law, including the limits for the 16 legal and illegal drugs can be found on the gov.uk website’s guide to drug drive legislation.

Online Pleas for Motoring Offences

As well as the introduction of a new drug driving offence, March also sees the beginning of a gradual roll-out of a new online service offering motorists in England and Wales who have been charged with a summary motoring offence the opportunity to enter their pleas via a website.

The “Make A Plea” scheme has already been successfully trialled in Greater Manchester and will now be extended nationwide. Under the scheme, if you are charged with a minor motoring offence such as speeding, or driving whilst uninsured, you will be able to login to a secure website to enter your plea. The new website is an alternative to the existing methods of entering a postal plea or attending court in person.

The launch of the new website is hoped to save time and money for the criminal justice system, which currently handles around 4.5 million minor motoring offences through the courts each year.
You can find out more about the Make A Plea scheme on the gov.uk website.

By Pete Mitchell