Drug-driving limits and roadside testing will be introduced in Scotland, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice Michael Matheson has announced.
Matheson pledged to build on Scotland’s tough drink-driving limits and existing laws against drug-driving with new curbs against motorists who endanger other road-users by taking the wheel under the influence of drugs.
He said: “This Government prioritised lowering the drink-driving limit in 2014, with evidence showing greater numbers of lives lost on our roads due to drink-driving than drug-driving.
“With the lower blood-alcohol limit well established, I want to give our law enforcement agencies enhanced powers to tackle drug-driving and so make our roads even safer.”
The road safety charity Brake has been calling for Scotland to follow the lead of England and Wales where tougher drug-driving legislation was introduced from March, 2015.
A Fleet News poll also revealed overwhelming support for the move, with 94.7% of respondents saying a zero-tolerance approach to drug-driving should be adopted north of the border.
It is already illegal to drive while impaired by drugs in Scotland and this offence will continue to operate, but the Scottish Government plans to introduce new drug-driving limits that will allow prosecutions where different drug types above specified levels are detected. This should mean it is easier to hold drug-drivers to account as there will be no requirement to prove that someone was driving in an impaired manner.
Matheson said: “While it is a long-standing offence to drive while impaired by drugs, by introducing new drug driving limits and roadside testing for the presence of drugs, we will strengthen the ability of our police and prosecutors to tackle the minority of drivers who recklessly put other road-users and themselves at risk.
“Under the new offence, evidence of impaired driving will not be required with our law enforcement agencies instead able to investigate and prosecute on the basis of a driver being above the specified limits for individual drug types.
“Subject to Parliament’s agreement and once the new regime is in force, Scotland will be at forefront of efforts across the UK to tackle drivers who either drink or take drugs – with both the lowest drink-drive limit operating in these islands and drug-driving limits in place.”
The Scottish Government is in on-going discussions with Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service on the operational requirements, including how roadside testing can be put in place.
Ministers intend to lay regulations by the end of 2017 for approval by MSPs, with implementation, including the need to have the necessary testing equipment in place, expected in 2019.
The introduction of drug-drive limits was among a number of recommendations by Sir Peter North QC in his independent report commissioned by the UK Government.
The UK Government’s Crime and Courts Act 2013 devolved powers to Scottish Ministers to introduce a drug-driving offence and the power to specify the limits that should apply for different drug types. This followed powers over setting the drink-driving limit being devolved through the Scotland Act 2012.
In respect of these additional powers, the Scottish Government initial focus was to tackle drink-driving with the announcement in 2013 that it would implement one of Sir Peter’s key recommendations, to lower the drink-driving limit from 80 milligram (mg) to 50 mg of alcohol in every 100 ml of blood. This was implemented in 2014 and Scotland is currently the only country in the UK with a 50 mg alcohol limit in force.
Commenting on the Scottish Government’s commitment to drug-driving limits, Sir Peter said: “I was very pleased to hear of the decision of the Scottish Government to proceed with reform of the law and practice relating to the offence of driving under the influence of drugs, following on from the recommendations that I made in this area in 2010.
“I believe that such reforms, when combined with the well-regarded decision to lower the drink drive limit, will make a major contribution to road safety in Scotland.”
Chief Superintendent Andy Edmonston, head of road policing for Police Scotland, added: “I welcome this proposed legislation, as anything designed to make our roads safer can only be to the public good.
“Police Scotland looks forward to working closely with our partners and the Scottish Government in the run-up to the introduction of the legislation in 2019 to ensure we are properly prepared. I would also remind motorists that it is currently illegal to drive whilst unfit through drugs and that remains a focus for Police Scotland.”
As it stands, the law in Scotland makes it an offence to be in charge of a motor vehicle while unfit to drive through drink or drugs, with the penalties – reserved to Westminster – being a minimum 12-month driving ban, up to 6 months in prison and a fine of up to a £5,000. The new offence of driving while above specified drug limits will, when in force, operate alongside the current offence and carry with it the same maximum penalties.
When police suspect drug-driving, they can carry out the roadside ‘field impairment test’ and if the individual fails this, that provides sufficient evidence to arrest and take the driver back to a police station for further tests.
A doctor must certify that the person is, in their opinion, impaired to the extent that they are unfit to drive. A driver can be required to provide a sample for testing for the presence of drugs that would cause impairment to drive.