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Scotland to take new steps to tackle scourge of substance-impaired motorists

Scotland to take new steps to tackle scourge of substance-impaired motorists

New drug-driving limits and roadside testing will be introduced in Scotland, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice Michael Matheson has announced.  

Mr Matheson pledged to build on Scotland’s tough drink-driving limits and existing laws against drug-driving with new curbs against motorists who endangered other road-users by taking the wheel under the influence of drugs.  

It is illegal to drive while impaired by drugs and that offence will continue to operate, but the Scottish Government plans to introduce new drug-driving limits that will allow prosecutions where different drug types above specified levels are detected.  

That should, said the government, mean it is easier to hold drug-drivers to account as there will be no requirement to prove that someone was driving in an impaired manner. The Scottish Government will announce in due course the specific limits that will be set for different drug types.  

Mr Matheson said: “This government prioritised lowering the drink-driving limit in 2014 with evidence showing greater numbers of lives lost on our roads due to drink-driving than drug-driving. With the lower blood-alcohol limit well established, I want to give our law enforcement agencies enhanced powers to tackle drug-driving and so make our roads even safer.

“While it is a long-standing offence to drive while impaired by drugs, by introducing new drug-driving limits and roadside testing for the presence of drugs, we will strengthen the ability of our police and prosecutors to tackle the minority of drivers who recklessly put other road-users and themselves at risk.  

“Under the new offence, evidence of impaired driving will not be required with our law enforcement agencies instead able to investigate and prosecute on the basis of a driver being above the specified limits for individual drug types.

“Subject to Parliament’s agreement and once the new regime is in force, Scotland will be at forefront of efforts across the UK to tackle drivers who either drink or take drugs - with both the lowest drink-drive limit operating in these islands and drug-driving limits in place.”  

The Scottish Government is in on-going discussions with Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority and the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service on the operational requirements, including how roadside testing can be put in place. 

Ministers intend to lay regulations by the end of 2017 for approval by MSPs, with implementation, including the need to have the necessary testing equipment in place, expected in 2019.  

The UK Government’s Crime and Courts Act 2013 devolved powers to Scottish Ministers to introduce a drug-driving offence and the power to specify the limits that should apply for different drug types. That followed powers over setting the drink-driving limit being devolved through the Scotland Act 2012.  

Scotland has cut its drink-driving limit from 80 milligram (mg) to 50 mg of alcohol in every 100 ml of blood. That limit was implemented in 2014 and Scotland is currently the only country in the UK with a 50 mg alcohol limit in force.  

Chief Superintendent Andy Edmonston, head of road policing for Police Scotland, said: “I welcome this proposed legislation, as anything designed to make our roads safer can only be to the public good.”

The current law makes it an offence to be in charge of a vehicle while unfit to drive through drink or drugs, with the penalties - reserved to Westminster - being a minimum 12-month driving ban, up to six months in prison and a fine of up to a £5,000.  The new offence of driving while above specified drug limits will, when in force, operate alongside the current offence and carry with it the same maximum penalties.  

Currently when police suspect drug-driving, they can carry out the roadside ‘field impairment test’ and if the individual fails them, that provides sufficient evidence to arrest and take the driver back to a police station for further tests.