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Drug driving is a serious offence that can have devastating consequences. Whether it is a family restricted in their activities by losing the adult who drives them around, or an individual distraught by the loss of their partner in a drug-fuelled hit-and-run, the effects of drug driving are felt widely and not only by the driver. If you have been charged with drug driving, you are probably feeling worried about what is to come next. Will you lose your licence? Will you get a huge fine? Will you go to prison? In this article, we look at the offence of drug driving and provide answers to some of the most common questions we get as drug driving defence solicitors, along with outlining general advice on how to avoid the dreaded ban altogether.
In England and Wales, it is an offence to drive where you are unfit to do so because you are on legal or illegal drugs, or where you have certain levels of illegal drugs in your blood, regardless of whether they have affected your driving. In this respect, drug driving is very similar to drunk driving.
Drug driving was introduced as a crime through a modification to the Road Traffic Act 1988 (RTA). Section 56 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which came into force on March 2, 2015, introduced a new section into the RTA that made it easier for law enforcement and the courts to prosecute drug driving as a separate offence to drink driving.
For a prosecution under this modified law to succeed, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) must show that:
If the driver has a certain level of a specified drug in their body at the time of the alleged offence, there is no need for the prosecution to show that there was any actual impairment to the driving.
If the police suspect you are under the influence of drugs, they may stop you and demand you complete a ‘field impairment assessment’. This tests various physical abilities (like pupil dilation, walking in a straight line, and standing on one leg) to allow police officers to determine whether you are unfit to drive.
If they decide you are unfit based on these criteria, and they suspect drugs might be the cause, they can either drug test you at the roadside or arrest you and require you to attend the police station.
At the station, you may be asked to supply a urine, blood, or saliva sample, which is tested for drugs and may then be used to secure a drug driving conviction. Note that if you refuse to provide a sample, you may still be convicted of drug driving.
As mentioned, when it can be demonstrated that you had a certain level of drugs in your system, there is no need for the police to prove that your driving was impaired through evidence like CCTV imaging, although that still might be collected as a backup.
A refusal to give a sample to the police for testing is an offence punishable by a prison sentence of up to 3 months, and/or a fine of up to £2,500. If you refuse to provide a sample without good reason, the police officer owes you a duty to tell you that you could be prosecuted for that. No police officer can forcefully take a sample from you for a drug test.
It is advised that you cooperate with the police and seek legal representation immediately.
Case processing times vary, but if you enter a not guilty plea then you can expect your trial and sentencing to take between 4 and 6 months. If you enter a guilty plea, this speeds things up and it may only take a few weeks.
It could take longer for your case to be processed if there were any alleged procedural errors raised by your defence team, or if you have health concerns (like addiction) that affect your ability to stand trial.
If you have been charged with drug driving, you are legally permitted to drive unless the terms of your release under investigation prohibit you from doing so. You will be told any applicable terms at the time of your release.
If convicted of drug driving, drivers may face:
Punishments from this list may be combined.
If the drug driving results in death of a person, the driver could be charged with causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs. This carries a maximum sentence of 14 years’ imprisonment and an unlimited fine.
If you are convicted of drug driving, your licence will show this conviction for 11 years. During this time, you may find it harder to get insurance coverage, and if you do get it, the premiums are likely to be much higher than normal.
Most insurance companies ask you to declare any convictions that you have received within the last 5 years. Failure to do so may result in your coverage being cancelled, a refusal to pay out in the event of a claim, or even prosecution for fraud. The fraud prosecution could arise on the basis of you trying to obtain a benefit (a better price on your car insurance) dishonestly through misrepresentation (by lying about any applicable convictions).
After 5 years, you may not need to declare these convictions even if they still remain on your licence (which is likely, as most drug related driving convictions stay on your licence for 11 years).
It is important to know whether you have to retake your driving test after a ban, not least because available test times could mean there is a gap between your ban ending and you being able to retake your test. If you drive unlicensed, even after your ban ends, you face being prosecuted again for a different offence (for not having a licence, which in turn may mean you face another ban or obtain more penalty points.
Whether you have to retake your test comes down to the court. If they request it you must retake your test, you’ll need to apply for a provisional licence and restart the licensing process. Helpfully, the DVLA will issue you a postal reminder 56 days before your disqualification ends so that you can book your theory and practical test.
Different, stricter, rules apply if you drive a category C or D vehicle, and the local traffic commissioner must agree that the DVLA can reinstate your licence.
Driving under the influence of drugs is considered a serious motoring offence, and as such is considered a criminal offence even if you only got points on your licence as a result. Because of this, a drug driving conviction may show on a Standard or Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. It may also show on a Basic DBS check if your conviction is unspent.
The conviction will show on your DBS until such a time as it is ‘filtered’, if applicable. Filtering means certain offences no longer show on your check, but it depends on how serious the offence was in the first place whether it actually gets removed.
If you are charged with drug driving, whether you are banned depends largely on how unfit you were to drive, or what levels of illicit substances were in your system. It may also depend to an extent on whether your legal defence team can submit compelling enough reasons to the court for you to avoid a ban (such as you being the sole wage earner and needing your car for work, or you being responsible for a vulnerable relative).
You will need to speak to a solicitor in advance of your court date if you hope to argue for mitigation against a ban.
Drug driving offences can have serious consequences on your personal and professional life, so it is important that you get expert legal representation as soon as you are able if you suspect you will be charged, or you have been charged, with drug driving. A good solicitor will know the exact procedure that should be followed by the police and may be able to get your case dropped before it even reaches court if something was not done correctly. Get in touch with the experts at Stuart Miller Solicitors today to arrange a free consultation.
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