The Coalition Government has announced plans to make a specific criminal offence of driving under the influence of drugs. The measure will be included in the Crime, Communications and Court Bill, which covers England, Scotland and Wales. The Bill is to be announced in the Queen’s speech to Parliament this Wednesday.
There has been a campaign for a change in the law by the family of a 14-year-old schoolgirl, Lillian Groves, who was killed in 2010 by a driver who had been smoking cannabis. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, met the Groves family at Downing Street last year.
Recalling the meeting, Cameron said: “It simply can’t be right that a schoolgirl … can lose her life and then we discover we don’t have the laws or the technology to punish drug-drivers properly. We want to do for drug-driving what drink-driving laws have done for driving under the influence of alcohol.”
Offenders can expect a fine of £5,000, as well as a prison sentence of up to six months and an automatic driving ban. The new offence will apply to drivers who have taken illegal drugs. However, the particular drugs to be included, and the limits that apply to each, are to be established by a panel of drug experts.
In order for the new law to be effective, the police will be issued with a saliva-analysis device that can be used at the roadside. Drug-testing equipment for this purpose is expected to receive approval from the Home Office later this year.
Presently, the police can prosecute drug-drivers if they can show that their driving ability was affected. However, they have to use a Field Impairment Assessment (FIA) to determine if the driver was under the influence of drugs. The FIA consists of five procedures, such measurement of a driver’s eye pupil size, condition and reaction to light, and the Romberg balance test.
Under the Road Traffic Act 1988, it is also an offence if the police find a driver’s ability was affected through taking prescribed medicines.