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Roadside drug tests coming to Scotland

21 April 2017

Roadside drug tests for drivers, with set limits for different drug types, are to be introduced in Scotland, Cabinet Secretary for Justice Michael Matheson announced today.

While it is already illegal to drive while impaired by drugs, ministers plan to introduce new drug-driving limits that will allow prosecutions where different drug types above specified levels are detected, without having to prove that someone was driving in an impaired manner – in the same way that driving with an alcohol level above a prescribed limit is already an offence.

Roadside tests were introduced in England & Wales in 2015 for the presence of cocaine and cannabis, and the Scottish Government has faced calls to make similar provision north of the border. Powers to do so were devolved by the Crime and Courts Act 2013. The new rules for Scotland are expected to come into force in 2019.

The actual limits that will apply have still to be announced.

Penalties for the new offence, which are still reserved to Westminster, will reflect those for the existing offence of driving while impaired, with a minimum 12 month driving ban, up to six months in prison and a fine of up to £5,000.

Ministers are in ongoing 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. Implementation will then depend on having the necessary testing equipment in place.

Currently when police suspect drug driving, they can carry out the roadside "field impairment test" and if the individual fails this, that provides sufficient evidence to arrest and take the driver back to a police station for further tests. A doctor must certify that the person is, in their opinion, impaired to the extent that they are unfit to drive. A driver can be required to provide a sample for testing for the presence of drugs that would cause impairment to drive.

Mr Matheson commented: “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."


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