Figures show new legislation has resulted in a significant increase in number of motorists detained and prosecuted by police
Figures acquired by BBC Radio 5 Live reveal that nearly 8,000 drug driving arrests have been made in England and Wales in the past year.
The data, collected from 35 of 43 national forces, showed that 7,796 motorists were arrested between March 2015 and April 2016 for being over the legal limit.
The London Metropolitan Police recorded the highest number of arrests over the 12-month period at 1,636, while Greater Manchester and Cheshire Police both made more than 560 arrests for drug driving.
The statistics follow the introduction of new legislation in England and Wales, which made it an offence to get behind the wheels of a vehicle after consuming certain levels of 17 types of specific prescription drugs, such as Diazepam and morphine, as well as illegal drugs.
Until March 2015, police could only prosecute a motorist if they could prove their driving had been actively impaired by drug use. Now being over the drug drive limit is effectively treated the same as being over the drink drive limit.
Whereas previously police had to get drivers suspected of being under the influence of drugs to the police station for a blood test, since March 2015, they have had road-side swab tests making it quicker and easier to determine whether a driver is under the influence of drugs. Motorists are not penalised if they have consumed the recommended amount of a prescribed drug, but driving when they have taken more or if advised not to do so by a healthcare professional is punishable.
Those caught by police can now receive a criminal record, up to six months in prison, a minimum 12-month driving ban and a substantial fine.
David Robinson, a specialist road traffic accident solicitor at Thompsons Solicitors, said: “The latest statistics clearly suggests that the legislation has revealed a hidden level of drug driving. Police officers are arresting a shocking number of reckless drivers across the UK who have flouted the law.
“While suitable funding to maintain a high level of police on UK roads is vital, so too is work directed by central government to educate the public about the risks of driving under the influence of both illegal and certain prescription drugs.
“A patient being treated for pain relief, for example, may not be aware that their ability to drive could be affected by prescribed medication. This message needs to be put out there loud and clear, so that drivers, passengers and pedestrians on British roads are safe.”
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