New drugalysers will be used to test drivers at the road side, and supporters of the new laws say that it will help to reduce the number of deaths and accidents that occur every year, while critics have pointed to the inclusion of 8 prescription drugs within the list of controlled substances.
It has long been illegal to drive a vehicle while under the influence of drugs, but it has been necessary for the police and prosecution to prove that the driver’s ability was impaired because of the substance they had taken. Drug driving was essentially included under drink driving laws, although prosecution tended to be sought for dangerous or reckless driving. The new laws separate drink driving and drug driving, to some extent, and the police say that it will make it easier to get a conviction.
There are two new offences; that of driving while under the influence of excessive amounts of controlled substances and being in charge of a vehicle while under the influence of excessive amounts of the listed drugs. It is also an offence to fail to provide a specimen, which may include giving a specimen of saliva or sweat at the roadside, or failing to provide a specimen of urine or blood at the police station. All offences carry considerable penalties.
At the time of the new laws being introduced, two devices had been sanctioned for use at the roadside to test for levels of controlled substances in the body. Tests must be completed by trained officers and using an accredited device, but the drugalysers, which work with a sample of saliva or sweat, only test for levels of cocaine and cannabis. Testing for any other substances requires the driver be taken to a police station and given a more in-depth test.
A total of 16 drugs can be tested for, including 8 prescription drugs. Cocaine and cannabis, which are considered to be two of the most commonly used drugs and that impair a person’s ability to drive safely, are among those that are tested for. Morphine, methadone, and temazepam are among the prescription drugs that are listed, and lawmakers have said that while the illegal drug limits are set deliberately low, the prescription drug limits have been set higher to ensure that people prescribed the drugs will not fall foul of the law.
Despite reassurances that people taking prescription drugs according to instructions from their healthcare professional will not end up over the limit, there is still concern. Doctors have suggested that people prescribed any of the drugs in the list should carry prescriptions with them, in order to be able to clear up any confusion at the roadside or at the police station. They have also said that there can be a medical defence that can be used in court, which means that the legitimate taking of the drug may not lead to disqualification, penalties, or other sanctions.
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