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Drug Driving Offences

The laws on Drug Driving changed on 2 March 2015. Now it is possible to be convicted of drug-driving even if you are not impaired by the drugs in your system.

Before this date, the only offence which the police could prosecute a person for who was driving or attempting to drive was ‘driving whilst unfit through drugs’. However, this required the prosecution to show that the drugs impaired the person’s ability to drive.

It is important that the court does not treat drug driving offences as if they are drink driving matters. ie. 3 x over the drug drive limit does not equal being 3 x over the drink-drive limit.

Unfit while driving or attempting to drive

Even now, the police regularly charge people under the old ‘unfit’ law which is often then changed to this new offence of exceeding the drug limit once the matter gets to court.

The offences are only committed if the drug driving is on a road or public place.

If you would like to know more please contact us today.

Penalties for drug driving

The penalties for drug driving are not as prescriptive as for drink driving. This is partly because the limits for illegal drugs are set in line with a zero-tolerance approach whilst ruling out accidental exposure.

This is different from the approach taken when setting the limit for alcohol, where the limit was set at a level where the effect of the alcohol would be expected to have impaired a person’s driving ability. There is no official sentencing guideline for drug driving. There is only guidance that does not hold the same weight as official guidelines.

If you would like to know more about alcohol and driving, please visit Drink Driving.

Drug Driving in Charge

There is a lesser offence of being in charge of a vehicle while over the prescribed limit. This is a completely different charge and is generally used when there is no evidence of you having driven, but you are found in control of a vehicle. There is a defence if you can show that there was no likelihood of you driving while over the limit.

The penalties are different from drug driving and range from 10 penalty points to a disqualification. Like drug driving, you can be sent to prison being in charge of a vehicle with drugs in your system.

For more information please see our FAQs on drug driving offences below.


Other Names

Driving or attempting to drive with illegal drugs or medically prescribed drugs in your system, driving with drugs over the prescribed limit

Main Legislation

Section 5A Road Traffic Act 1988


Maximum Penalties

Driving Penalties: A minimum driving ban of 12 months.

Fine: Unlimited.



Magistrates only (unless an appeal)

Imprisonable? Yes – up to 6 months imprisonment.

Drug Driving Offence FAQs

Are there any other defences for prescription drugs?

You may have a defence to drug driving if you are using a prescription drug and can show that the following apply:

(a) the specified controlled drug had been prescribed or supplied to you for medical or dental purposes,

(b) You took the drug 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

(c) Your possession of the drug immediately before taking it was not unlawful.

You will not have a defence if:

(a) your actions were contrary to any advice, given by the person by whom the drug was prescribed or supplied, about the amount of time that should elapse between taking the drug and driving a motor vehicle, or

(b) your actions were contrary to any accompanying instructions about that matter given by the manufacturer or distributor of the drug.

What is the standard of a careful and competent driver?

The law states that the test is an objective one. What that means is that it doesn’t matter what the driver him/herself thinks about the standard his/her driving. What matters is what a reasonable person would consider reasonable in the circumstances. The fact that a driver has not long passed his test does not excuse him from driving carelessly (although it may be mitigation). The driving must be judged at the time of the incident. Therefore the question is: “were his actions reasonable in the circumstances?”. It does not matter that with hindsight, he may have acted differently.

What are the current drug limits for prescription drugs?

Controlled DrugLimit (microgrammes per litre of blood)
Lysergic Acid Diethylamide1

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