The Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, has announced a consultation on the issue of whether those convicted of drug driving should have to undergo rehabilitation.Those convicted of drink driving, as opposed to drug driving, are usually offered the drink driver rehabilitation course. If successfully completed within the set time, the offender is given a reduction in the length of the driving disqualification of up to 25%.
The drink driver course was recently reviewed to determine its effectiveness and efficiency and to evaluate how it is delivered. The review also considered whether the existing course remained relevant and appropriate and looked at attitudes towards expanding the course to include drug drivers.
The key findings were:
- The course is being widely offered to eligible offenders, with the decision on offering the course is left to the discretion of the sentencer.
- The availability of courses is positive, and the booking process appears effective. How course information was updated and disseminated to offenders were areas identified as requiring improvement.
- Raising awareness of the courses largely takes place via the providers. The fact offenders have to decide which provider to opt for on the day could impact referral acceptance rates.
- Providers stated that the application, approval and appointment process for providing a course was working effectively.
- The principle of the user paying for the course was also effective, although the lack of a minimum price caused some providers to say there was a ‘race to the bottom’ on price, which could impact quality.
- Monitoring and quality assurance processes were viewed favourably, and the administrator was performing its role well.
There is no rehabilitation course currently offered to those convicted of drug driving. In 2015 a course for both drink and drug drivers was piloted using the format of the original drink driver course. Building on the pilot, the review examined attitudes to expanding the course and the feasibility of implementing a combined course. Although there were no major concerns about the practicability of expanding the course to include drug drivers, there were concerns about the impact on the effectiveness of the course. The general view was that more work was needed to understand the nature of the drug drive audience and the potential impact of mixing drink and drug drivers.
High risk offenders
The Department of Transport has published a report outlining the proposals for creating a high risk offender drug drive rehabilitation scheme. This report is published alongside the call for evidence about protecting the public from repeat drug driving offenders and the review referred to above.
The practical consequence of being a high risk drink drive offender is that a driver’s licence is not returned to them automatically at the end of a disqualification. The driver has to apply for the return of his licence, and it will only be issued after a satisfactory medical assessment. There is an absence of a high risk offender (HRO) scheme for drug drivers.
The main criteria for the HRO for drug drivers is suggested as follows:
- having been disqualified upon conviction with a blood drug concentration that significantly increased the risk of a road traffic collision.
- The drink driver scheme refers to being two and a half times the limit, a criterion that could not be applied to drugs because of the different properties and potencies of the drugs. Instead, each individual drug limit would be set at a level where experts say there is an increased risk of road traffic collisions. The levels are adjusted accordingly for offences where there is a single drug, multiple drugs, or proscribed medicines. Further criteria are set out for offences involving dangerous driving where there is drug use. These will apply if legislation is changed to allow drug driving to be recognised as a specific offence in relation to dangerous or careless driving. The scheme is also proposed to apply to those offenders disqualified for failing to provide a sample for analysis or those disqualified for multiple drug offences on one occasion or repeat occasions in a ten year period.
Call for evidence
The consultation asks whether there should be an HRO scheme requiring clearance at a medical level for a driver to regain their licence and whether there should be a rehabilitation course.
In addition, the consultation is looking at changing the way that blood samples are taken and seeking evidence on the relationship between medical cannabis and road safety.
The specific questions asked are:
- What evidence is there that the absence of a drug driving rehabilitation scheme is a problem?
- Is the government’s proposal to introduce a scheme the right approach?
- If the HRO drug driver scheme is to be introduced what criteria should be set for inclusion on the scheme?
- Should consideration be given to creating an offence of causing death by dangerous driving whilst under the influence of drink/drugs?
- Should consideration be given to creating an offence of causing serious injury by driving whilst under the influence of drink or drugs or failing to provide a sample?
- Should consideration be given to amending the HRO drink-driver scheme to include offences of dangerous and careless driving, together with any offences involving death and serious injury?
- Should consideration be given to ensuring HRO drug-driver scheme includes offences of dangerous and careless driving, together with any offences involving death and serious injury?
The techniques for taking blood samples have changed since the Road Traffic Offenders Act was introduced in 1988. The legislation requires the sample to be taken and split into two parts. Medical professionals say that this poses an unacceptable risk to healthcare professionals. Current practice is to use vacuum blood extraction, and the consultation asks whether the legislation should be amended to enable vacuum blood extraction.
Medical cannabis is the term used for “cannabis-based product for medicinal use in humans” (CBPMs) and licensed cannabis-based medicines. The indication seems to be that the number of medical cannabis users is on the increase, with no signs of slowing. The concern with cannabis and road safety is the impact of the psychoactive effects of THC on people’s ability to drive safely. There is a medical defence to drug driving where the controlled drug is prescribed if taken according to medical advice and on manufacturer’s instructions. Any comments on the relationship between the use of medical cannabis and road safety are invited.
The consultation closes on 28 June 2022.
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Image credit: “Drug Driving” by InsuranceRevolution20 is marked with CC BY 2.0.