Drink and drug drivers should be treated equally

Complaining about court closures last week, we ran out of space to complain about another bugbear: driving bans.

It’s not that we disagree with them, it’s their unfairness.

Going through the court cases as we do, it’s obvious that there is a difference between how drink and drug drivers are treated.

If you have a couple of pints and are stupid enough to get behind the wheel, you will, if you’re not too over the limit, get (say) a 10-month ban — you’ll get disqualified for 12 months but be offered the chance to knock a bit off with a training course costing no more than £250.

If you’re daft enough to smoke some weed, drive and get caught, you get the 12 months but with no chance of a reduction.

We don’t know why this is but it seems to be an unfair treatment of younger people.

For those who don’t know, there are legal limits for the levels of 15 or so intoxicating substances in the blood, about half being illegal drugs, half legal, prescription drugs. (Yes, there is a legal limit for driving after taking illegal drugs).

Being cynical, we could suggest it’s because white middle aged men (ie most MPs or their friends) have done or still drink and drive and think: “Hey, we all make mistakes” or “We can all have a couple of pints and safely drive”. It’s kind of acceptable.

On the other hand, your stereotypical dope smoker is young and (possibly in some people’s heads) a black dude with dreads. As a line has it in the classic film Back To The Future: “We don’t wanna mess with no reefer addicts.”

To be grossly simplistic: drink drivers are the people you play squash or golf with, drug takers are the slightly scary bunch of young people you rarely come across.
With our more rational hats on, the explanation may well be that drug driving is only recently something that can be tackled and the law has not yet caught up with itself.

Still: Cheshire Police is hot on drug driving — as can be seen from our pages — and most drivers who get caught do seem to be young lads, so this differential in the law is mostly unfair to the young.

(We get more complaints from 20-year-olds done for drug driving than anything else, with some impressive justifications: “You’ve infringed my intellectual property rights by printing my name and address,” being our favourite).

Don’t get us wrong: drinking and driving is bad, taking drugs is illegal and drug driving is bad. But inequality is wrong, and these two classes of people are treated differently.
The law, however, should treat everyone the same: drug drivers should get the option of the course or drink drivers should lose the chance of a reduction. We’ve contacted our MP Fiona Bruce about this, so watch this space.

***

The drug drive levels are interesting when you look at the figures.

The limit for cannabis (or its active ingredient) is pretty low; we think we read it was lower as far as impairment goes than the drink drive limit.

If you smoke weed and drive up to 24 hours later, long after the effects have worn off, you can still be over the limit. You could smoke a joint at home in the evening and lose your licence going home from work the next day. Obviously, you can have a skin full the night before and be over the limit the next day, but the cannabis law seems to be harsher.

The heroin, cocaine and ketamine limits are also low, and may also show up as illegal after the effects have worn off.

The levels of prescription drugs (benzodiazepines and opiates) are higher, which makes some kind of sense, as their users are taking them for medical reasons, but if road safety was the paramount reason for the levels, this makes no sense at all.

We also read in a blog on the Spectator website that drivers who are over the legal limit for prescription drugs can escape as long as they can show a prescription or pill-bottle at the roadside.

This is true: the Government’s own website says: “(you can drive after taking prescription drugs if) they aren’t causing you to be unfit to drive even if you’re above the specified limits.”

So, there’s a limit considered safe for driving, but you can carry on driving if you’re above it — ie legally unsafe to drive — as long as you produce a bottle of pills with your name on it.

This is most true for heroin addicts. The limit for 6-monoacetylmorphine (heroin) is 5mcgms/litre of blood but its legal equivalent methadone’s limit is 500µg/litre. If methadone is used to wean people off heroin it must be equal to some degree yet the law implies it’s 100 times weaker.

To be fair, the Government does advise people taking certain medications to talk to their doctor about whether they should drive if they’ve been prescribed certain drugs (amphetamine, clonazepam, diazepam, flunitrazepam, lorazepam, methadone, morphine or opiate and opioid-based drugs such as codeine or tramadol, oxazepam or temazepam).

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