Legal Advice for Drink & Drug Driving Offences

Drink driving is a long-established and re-occurring offence on the nation’s roads, and the implications of it and penalties for it are well-known. Figures released in June 2016, however, highlighted that drug driving is also now becoming a widespread problem. From March 2015 to April 2016 it was reported that nearly 8,000 arrests were made for drug driving in England and Wales.

New laws

This follows amendments to the law as of 2 March 2015, whereby it is now an offence to be caught driving if you have over the prescribed limits of one of 17 controlled drugs in your bloodstream. These are a mixture of illegal recreational drugs and over-the-counter medicines, for which you are advised to seek advice from a doctor, pharmacist or healthcare professional in order to understand how these could affect your driving.

In essence, it is now illegal to drive a vehicle if you are unfit to do so due to legal or illegal drugs being in your blood above a prescribed limit. Police now have the power to stop a vehicle at any time and ask the driver to undertake a ‘field impairment assessment’. This is similar to the roadside test administered to drink drivers, and involves a series of physical tests, ie. walking in a straight line, and a screening test to detect the presence of a series of Class A drugs.

If a driver is assessed as being unfit to drive as a result of the tests, they can be arrested and asked to undertake further tests at a police station. It should also be noted that even if a driver passes the roadside assessment, they can still be arrested if the police suspect their driving is impaired by drugs.

The effects of drugs

Of the 17 controlled drugs on the list, each has different set limits for a safe amount to be in the bloodstream that shouldn’t impair driving. For illegal drugs, naturally, these limits are lower, but they do rule out the possibility of passive smoking, for example, or other forms of accidental exposure.

Each drug produces different effects through which driving could be impaired, but as a general rule, much like drinking, your reactions and decision-making can be slowed down. Drugs can distort perceptions of time and distance, and can also distort your vision. Other drugs can also instill over-confidence and aggressiveness, leading to dangerous driving.


The penalties for drug driving follow much the same pattern as for drink-driving. You face a minimum one year ban from driving if you are found to have above a prescribed limit in your blood, and/or your driving is impaired by drugs in your system. You also face a fine of up to £5,000 and/or six months’ imprisonment if found to be “Driving or attempting to drive when unfit to drive through drink or drugs”. Even if you are simply ‘in charge of a vehicle’ in the same condition, you face a £2,500 fine and three months in prison. The most serious penalty is naturally relating to death by dangerous driving when under the influence of drugs. This penalty is the same also for drink-driving, and that is imprisonment of up to 14 years.

Clearly, the penalties are showing an almost zero tolerance to the increasing problem of drug driving. However, in addition to those sanctions listed above, there is the issue of having a criminal record, the fact that your licence will show a conviction for drug driving for eleven years, the impact this has on insurance premiums and job prospects, and it can even impact on your travel arrangements, with some countries such as the USA imposing restrictions on visitors with a criminal record in the UK.

In all cases, Ison Harrison have experienced and qualified personnel to advise on likely penalties and can offer representation where required, so get in touch with our Road Traffic Offences department today.