Why are drug drivers treated worse than drink drivers?
Updated: Mar 29
The laws on drug driving are grossly unfair when compared to drink driving.
With drink driving the legal limit is 35 microgrammes of alcohol per 100ml of breath. In reality this can equate to a one or two drinks for most people (note - my advice is always to never drink if you are driving, trying to second guess your alcohol level is a very dangerous game).
However, compare this to drug driving where the legal limit is set at the detectable minimum.
In effect that means any controlled drug detected in your system will mean a charge of drug driving and a mandatory disqualification. This also means that as some drugs can stay in your system for extended periods of time, it can trigger a drug driving charge many hours or days after the drug was consumed.
With alcohol the law gives you some wriggle room for having a drink or two, with drugs the law just says no and disqualifies you.
You may think that is fair as people shouldn’t have controlled drugs anyway, but I see so many cases where people are over the drug limit and the police in their statement say nothing negative about the standard of driving. In every drink drive case I have read the standard of driving is described as poor, and is the main reason why the person got stopped by the police. For drug driving offences drivers are often stopped for other reasons, like having a brake light out or just generally being young looking and having a nice car. Only then are they drug tested and found to be over the minimal legal limit.
The drug limit test came into law in 2015. Prior to that a person driving with drugs in their system had to actually be shown to be impaired by the drug to the satisfaction of a medical profession following a series of co-ordination and concentrations tests. Now you can exhibit no effect or impairment from the drug, as long as there is a detectable controlled drug above the minimal limit you are guilty.
Both drink driving and drug driving carries a mandatory disqualification from driving for at least 12 months. However, to further discriminate against drug drivers it is permitted for drink drivers to get their driving licences back 25% quicker by completing a rehabilitation course. Why is there is no equivalent course for drug drivers? They have to complete the full disqualification.
I find the drug driving law disproportionately affects young people who are now less likely to drink alcohol but more likely to use cannabis recreationally. Too many times I represent young people that smoked some cannabis many hours or the day before and because the drug stays in the system longer than alcohol and limits are so low for drug driving they test over the limit. It doesn’t seem fair to me.
What needs to change? When the law was introduced it was to cut down on the cost and difficultly of proving impairment. In principal the process of setting a legal limit for drug driving is fair, but that legal limit is set too low, the detectable minimum is like setting the drink drive limit at 5 or 10 milligrammes of breath rather than the current legal limit of 35. The limits for drug driving need to be raised to give some parity with drink driving.
Also there needs to be a nationwide roll out of a drug driving rehabilitation course to allow those who complete the course successfully to get their driving licences back 25% quicker, as is currently the case for drink drivers.
The whole issue of possession and usage of controlled drugs is another topic, I believe we have to face the reality that some people will take drugs, and some of those people will drive, those that break the law will be charged, but the limits and punishments for drug driving should mirror that seen for those that abuse the legal drug of alcohol.
If you are accused of drug driving or being in charge of a vehicle always consider the follow potential legal loopholes.
Can it be proven that you were the driver at the time?
Did you inadvertently consume the drugs? Did someone spike you?
Did you consume the drugs that put you over the limit after you stopped driving and before you were tested by the police?
Did you only drive a very short distance?
Is the reading reliable?
Was the drug drive procedure carried out correctly?
Can you demonstrate that there was no likelihood of you driving while you were over the prescribed limit?
Was there an emergency or threatening situation that caused you to drive?
Were you charged with the offence within the 6 month statutory time limit?
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