Driving under the influence of cannabis or cocaine

If you are found guilty of driving under the influence of drugs such as cannabis or cocaine, you are extremely likely to face a lengthy disqualification from driving. If convicted a mandatory disqualification will be set in in almost all circumstances.

Drug driving and the law

Previously, a police officer was able to decide whether there was clear evidence of impaired driving, which would reasonably have enabled them to conclude that the driver was driving under the influence of drugs.

A police officer may have stopped a vehicle and detected that the driver was under the influence of drugs if they could smell a substance such as cannabis, due to its distinctive odour. Dilated pupils or other visible signs of impairment may also suggest to a police officer that a driver was under the influence of drugs. These signs may be subjective, but they provided the police with reasonable grounds to arrest an individual if they suspected them of drug driving.

The laws regarding drug driving in the UK changed on 2nd March 2015 with the introduction of new classifications which made it illegal to drive, to attempt to drive or to be in charge of a vehicle on a road or in a public place whilst under the influence of controlled drugs above a specified limit.

The limits have deliberately been set very low, so only a very small amount of a drug would be enough to put someone at risk of receiving a lengthy disqualification. Just smoking a cannabis cigarette one evening may still mean you are over the legal limit the following morning. As certain drugs take longer to leave your system, the risks of being over the limit are very high.

The introduction of these classifications meant individuals would be found to be committing a criminal offence if they were over the specified limits for each drug whilst driving, as it is with drink driving.

The classifications were also intended to make it easier for the police to detect and prosecute drug drivers.

The offence works alongside the offences of driving while impaired through drink or drugs. Drugs covered by the rules around driving under the influence of controlled drugs above specified limits include:

  • Cannabis (weed)
  • Cocaine
  • Ecstasy
  • Ketamine

The limits for driving whilst under the influence of illegal drugs are extremely low – simply smoking one joint of cannabis will put you over the legal drug drive limit.

Driving under the influence of prescription drugs

Drug drive laws in the UK also cover certain prescribed or over the counter drugs, so you could be facing a charge of driving under the influence of illegal drugs if you are taking prescription medication.

You should discuss any potential side effects of medication with your doctor, pharmacist or healthcare professional before driving, otherwise you run the risk of a charge of impaired driving.

What are the penalties for drug driving?

The penalties for drug driving in the UK are similar to the existing penalties for drink driving.  The maximum penalty for drug driving is an unlimited fine, and/or 6 months in prison, plus a minimum driving disqualification of 12 months.

The sentence will be higher if certain factors are evident in the offence, including:

  1. The presence of more than one drug in the body
  2. The presence of alcohol in the body
  3. Evidence of an unacceptable standard of driving
  4. Driving or attempting to drive an HGV, LGV or PSV
  5. Driving or attempting to drive a vehicle for financial reward

A number of aggravating factors will also be taken into account when sentencing for drug driving, including:

  1. Any previous convictions that are relevant to the offence of drug driving
  2. The location where the offence was committed – for example near a school
  3. If the vehicle was carrying passengers
  4. The weather conditions

Mitigating factors will also be taken into consideration, including:

  1. No previous convictions
  2. The character of the defendant
  3. Remorse shown by the defendant
  4. The age of the offender
  5. Any mental disorder
  6. The distance driven
  7. If there was a genuine emergency requiring the defendant to drive
  8. If the defendant is the sole or primary carer for a dependant

Driving defences for drug driving

A medical defence to drug driving under UK law can be argued if the defendant can prove that:

  1. The controlled drug in their system had been prescribed or supplied for medical reasons
  2. They took the drug in accordance with directions provided by the prescriber
  3. Possession of the drug immediately prior to taking it was not illegal under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971

What to do if you are accused of drug driving

If you are accused of drug driving you should seek specialist advice from an expert solicitor as soon as you are able to do so.

The driving offence solicitors at Lawtons have the expertise and experience necessary to defend cases of drug driving. For more information or to discuss an individual case with our team of specialist solicitors, please get in touch or call us on 0333 577 0522.