As new police drug detection kits and set-limits for drug-driving have been recently introduced there has been much divided opinion.
Earlier this month Greater Manchester Police (GMP) force announced they would delay enforcing the new legislation introduced around the same time. Chief Inspector Mark Dexley said: “We have taken the decision, in GMP, not to make use of the legislation while we satisfy ourselves that the legal and procedural issues involved in prosecuting these cases can properly withstand legal scrutiny.” He added: “This will be a temporary delay whilst we ensure our equipment has the right certification and our officers have the right training and understand the requirement procedures. We are mindful that if we get this wrong then a significant amount of court time and public money could be wasted.”
The introduction of the laws also raised concern among motoring lawyers that they might not accurately take into account those who are prescribed therapeutic medication such as morphine and temazepam, perhaps wrongly being charged under the new offence. They also voiced concerns that the new law would create a specific limit for certain substances and warned that different enforcement approaches across the country could produce problems.
Drug Driving 50/50 Chance of Conviction/Acquittal
More controversially one criminal defence lawyer in particular said the new laws won’t help and that they are a ‘stunt’. Nick Freeman explained how easy he believes it is to get people off from drug-driving convictions saying: “Unfortunately it’s extremely easy. I have never lost a case of driving while unfit through drugs.”
He added: “The statistics show that if you’re charged with it, you have a 50% chance of acquittal. Because it’s so hard to secure a conviction, the police don’t want to waste their time and money arresting people, when they think the best chance they have is a one in two chance of getting a conviction.”
Although Freeman may also be clearly self-promoting his services as he criticises the system, he does not seem to be simply law-bashing for the sake of it as he does aim to illustrate many of its pitfalls clearly. He suggests that because the new drugwipe devices are only approved for use to detect two illegal drugs, cannabis and cocaine, that people will simply switch to other types of illegal substances. He furthered: “We don’t need these screening devices, they’ve cost a lot of money and in my view they’re not fit for purpose because they miss out 14 of the 16 controlled substances.”
Freeman suggested that equipment used “that exists in other countries, which detect the vast majority of controlled substances” should be implemented instead. He also suggest that there is still a level of interpretation within the law, particularly when patients ask their doctors questions relevant for whether or not they are fit to drive when taking prescription medication. He said: “If you’re taking diazepam for depression, for example, you’re going to want to know from your doctor, ‘How long is it going to stay in my system for? What will my prescribed dose equate to in a sample of blood?’ Is the doctor going to know that? You need it to be absolutely watertight.”
It would certainly be hard to counter-claim at this early stage that the systems in place are absolutely watertight, but alongside these criticisms have been some positive comments concerning their introduction.
Drug Driving Arrests and ‘Crackdown’
Although it is too early to predict the level of successful convictions to argue against Freeman’s scepticism, police did make 19 arrests in the first nine days of the new system, with newspaper’s reporting it as a ‘crackdown’ in drug-driving. This was an average of two people a day across England and Wales, where the new laws are covered. Although it is unclear as to whether these individuals will be charged, it does help illustrate that 19 road traffic incidents could have been avoided due to these arrests.
Driving while under the influence of drugs can seriously impair judgment and the ability to react quickly and accordingly to possible hazards on the road. This does not mean to say that it is likely that every last one of the 19 people arrested would have caused an incident had they not have been caught. But if just one arrest meant that an incident was avoided in which someone would have lost their life, then surely it does have a positive effect on road safety, even if there are some limitations.
Inspector Stewart Goodwin, of Surrey and Sussex roads policing unit said: “The fact that we have made so many arrests because of new legislation and equipment in just a week shows how much of a difference the change in the law will make.”
The introduction of the new laws ran alongside a government THINK! Campaign, so it would seem that their implementation was not solely confined to punishing those who are caught but also to raise awareness of the dangers, educating the driving public while deterring them from drug driving.
Where this campaign may be particularly effective is its highlighting of the possible consequences. Not only does the campaign state the penalties for drug-driving, such as a minimum 12-month driving ban, a criminal record, a ‘hefty’ fine or up to 6 months in prison (or both), but it also educates people of the knock-on effects this could lead to. These include consequences such as job loss, loss of independence, the shame of having a criminal record and trouble getting into other countries like the USA. If such campaigns are successful in that people were to consider the magnitude of the negative effect it would have on their lives before turning on the ignition of a vehicle while under the influence, this may also reduce the likelihood of them doing so, before the actual enforcement of the law is even needed for that individual.
Drug Driving Law’s Importance and Police Training
Chief Constable Suzette Davenport of the Association of Chief Police Officers is among those who defended the introduction of new legislation and detection techniques and stressed its importance. She said: “Every person who gets behind the wheel of a car is a danger to themselves and others. Improving the tools that officers can use to better detect those who drive whilst impaired by drugs will immeasurably enhance our ability to keep the roads safe.” She also stressed that forces would be training officers and making decisions locally about the best way to implement the new legislation.
Furthermore, The Department for Transport insists that the levels of the eight prescription drugs included in the new law are calculated to avoid people being wrongly charged and that a doctor’s prescription can be used as a defence in court.
It may take time for the full implications of the new devices to become one hundred percent clear and whether their benefits and limitations will be as drastic as first forecast by many in key roles involved with its implementation and execution.
Perhaps criminal defence lawyer Nick Freeman would be more worried about a client’s possible drug-driving conviction if the prosecutors were to insist on a drug test from AlphaBiolabs. We have accurate and comprehensive court-approved legal Drug tests that can detect for a number of drugs, whether that is for on the spot with-cause testing to determine the level of substance that is in their system or to establish a history of consumption of up to 12 months from a single sample collection. If you are a solicitor or a member of the public that requires drug testing for any purpose then please call our friendly customer service team on 0333 600 1300 to order, to receive a quote to meet your exact needs or to ask anything drug testing related at all.