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Drug-driving - The Law And Possible Defence

By Expert Author: jaymee lopez

Forensic Equity has learnt that new drug-driving laws are due to be introduced. Under the new law in England and Wales drug-driving would become a specific offence with a potential fine of up to £5000 and a jail term.

At present in order to be convicted of drug driving the police and prosecutions forensic scientist must prove impairment. I.e. that the drugs caused the driver to become impaired thus causing the road accident or road traffic offence.

Under the new proposed laws however, police with be provided with road side testing equipment which will indicate whether the person has taken an illicit substance. Any person suspected of being impaired whilst at the wheel will first be tested for alcohol. If this proves negative but the police officer still remains suspicious the new handheld trace detection device will then be used to test the person’s siliva for illicit drugs at the road side.

Questions however remain over the soundness of the technology used in such devices. May legal medicated drugs can have similar chemical compounds to that of illicit drugs making it very hard to differentiate between substances, particularly when using relatively simple scientific testing equipment.

In summation the proposed testing equipment is not fool proof and it can sometimes be very difficult to differentiate with absolute certainty between legal and illegal drugs and substances. If your client believes that they have been wrongly charged instruct our independent forensic scientists to review the evidence. With years of scientific experience they can re-examine the evidence, conduct new forensic drugs analysis and provide expert witness reporting and testimony.

Under the Road Traffic Act of 1988 it is an offence under section 4 for any person to drive or be in charge of a vehicle, whilst impaired through drink or drugs. Unlike in the case of alcohol consumption where there are statutory legal limits for the concentration of alcohol; in a drivers system, no such limits exist in the case of either illicit or prescription drugs. Where drugs driving is suspected, the finding of a drug (licit or illicit) in a person's body fluids must be backed up by medical evidence of impairment, which could have been caused by that drug, However, just because a drug is present in a person's system doesn't mean that drug could or did cause the alleged impairment.

Case example

Person is stopped by police, due to alleged erratic driving behaviour and breathalysed at the roadside. The breathalyser test is negative, but the police arrest the driver on suspicion of being impaired through drugs. Driver examined by a doctor who suggests impairment. Driver blames poor driving and behaviour on being upset over a recent bereavement and denies being impaired. They admit to having previously consumed an antidepressant drug, but deny taking any for the last few days. They provide a sample of their urine, which is sent to the laboratory to be tested for drugs. Low levels of an antidepressant drug detected in the urine sample. Driver charged under Road Traffic Act with driving whilst impaired through drugs.

How can we help?

Our forensic drugs driving experts have considerable experience in the analysis of body fluids for drugs and the interpretation of the results of those analyses.

Our forensic scientists can:

- Review the findings of the prosecution scientist.

- Comment on the properties of the drug found in the urine and whether its declared effects could potentially affect driving. Any manufacturer's warnings?

- Interpret the significance of the levels of drug found in the urine in relation to the alleged impairment.

- Comment on the finding of the drug in the urine sample in the context of the alleged last consumption several days before the incident.

With 33 years’ experience working for The Forensic Science Service, Stanley Porter is a highly experienced and recognised forensic toxicologist.

During his vast career Stanley has worked in senior positions in forensic toxicology, for the largest national forensic provider (The Forensic Science Service) and with police forces across England and Wales. During this time Stanley has been responsible for reporting on a variety of forensic cases including coroner’s cases, alcohol technical defences, drink driving, drugs driving and criminal toxicology. Importantly, Stanley is an authorised forensic alcohol analyst under the provisions of the Road Traffic Act 1984.

Forensic Equity is a leading provider of forensic services, and can offer a defence for those facing
penalties for drug driving

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