Changes in ‘Drug-Driving’ Law

The new law in relation to ‘drug-driving’ which came into force on 2 March 2015 in England and Wales is set out in section 5A of the Road Traffic Act 1988 which was inserted by section 56(1) of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and brought into force by the Crime and Courts Act 2013 (Commencement No. 1) Order 2014 (SI 2014/3268).

It is now an offence for a person to drive or attempt to drive a motor vehicle on a road or other public place, or be in charge of a motor vehicle on a road or other public place, whilst there is a specified controlled drug in that persons body (“controlled drug” has the meaning given by section 2 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971).

A person is guilty of an offence if the proportion of the drug in that persons blood or urine exceeds the specified limit for that drug (A limit may be zero).

There are two defences to this offence:

  1. It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section to show that the specified controlled drug had been prescribed or supplied to that person for medical or dental purposes and was taken in accordance with any directions given by the person by whom the drug was prescribed or supplied, and with any accompanying instructions (so far as consistent with any such directions) given by the manufacturer or distributor of the drug, and that the person’s possession of the drug immediately before taking it was not unlawful under section 5(1) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (restriction of possession of controlled drugs) because of an exemption in regulations made under section 7 of that Act (authorisation of activities otherwise unlawful under foregoing provisions).
  2. It is a defence for a person charged with being in charge of a motor vehicle to prove that at the time the person is alleged to have committed the offence the circumstances were such that there was no likelihood of that person driving the vehicle whilst the proportion of the specified controlled drug in the person’s blood or urine remained likely to exceed the specified limit for that drug.

The offence will carry a mandatory disqualification and a maximum of six months' imprisonment.

This legislation covers both illegal drugs and medicinal (including prescription)drugs and the limits are specified by either the Secretary of State in England and Wales or by the Scottish Ministers in Scotland.

A table of the limits (England and Wales) for 16 drugs covered by this legislation is set out below:

Table of drugs and limits

‘Illegal’ drugs (‘accidental exposure’ – zero tolerance approach)

Threshold limit in blood





delta-9-tetrahydrocannibinol (cannabis)




lysergic acid diethylamide






6-monoacetylmorphine (heroin)



‘Medicinal’ drugs (risk based approach)

Threshold limit in blood

amphetamine (regulations were recently laid with the proposed limit and expected to come into force after 2 March 2015)



















For illegal drugs a zero-tolerence approach has been taken meaning that they will simply have to show that the individual, who is driving or in charge of a motor vehicle on a road or other public place, had taken drugs to be guilty of this offence.  The drugs do not have to impair their ability to control a vehicle.

The implication of this new legislation for employers is that they should check that driving policies and substance misuse policies reflect the current position. If an employee is prescribed medication the employer should have a means by which the employees duties can be modified or the employee can be temporarily reassigned to a different role if advice from the employees GP or a pharmacist suggests that the medication would have an effect on the employees ability to carry out their job.

For advice and assistance in updating your policies and contracts in line with this legislation, please contact a member of the Employment Team employment@kitsons-solicitors.co.uk.

Kitsons Solicitors - Rosie Evans

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    Kitsons Solicitors - Rosie Evans

    Rosie EvansAssociate

    Rosie is an Associate in our Employment team

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