South Yorkshire Police have launched a new drug driving awareness campaign that they hope will deter drivers from getting behind the wheel if they are under the influence of drugs. The force have said that the new campaign comes just a month after the sentencing of one of the first drivers to have been caught and convicted under the new drug driving laws.
There was some controversy over the new laws when they were introduced, primarily because of the fact that the list of tested substances included a number of prescription medications, although the government, police, and experts, said that sticking to prescription levels and using common sense would ensure that no driver fell afoul of the rules. The campaign is aimed at the 17 to 25 age group, because these are the most likely drivers to return a positive result when they were tested.
Police are now equipped with drugalysers, which enable them to use a sample of saliva or even sweat to be able to test for common drugs like cannabis and cocaine at the roadside. In the same way that a positive breathalyser test for alcohol means that the driver has to then have an evidentiary test, those found to be over the drug driving limit also have to succumb to a similar, secondary test.
As well as recreational drugs like cannabis and cocaine, the government also included a list of prescription medications that were also prohibited. This included some anti-depressants, painkillers, and even methodone. At the time that the law was first introduced, there was considerable concern that law abiding people would test positive despite being able to drive and not knowing that they were breaking the law. The police said that a medical defence would be enough to ensure a not guilty verdict in court, and also suggested carrying a copy of their prescription around in order to show police so that the problem could be remedied sooner, rather than later.
The new laws carry similarly weighted penalties to those of drink driving, so anybody found guilty is faced with disqualification, considerable fines, and the possibility of a prison sentence, or a suspended sentence, as well as community service.