Drug Driving: Proposed Regulations – Analysis of Consultation Responses

This report relates to Scottish responses to a joint public consultation undertaken by the UK Government and the Scottish Government in relation to proposals for new regulations on drug driving limits. The responses to the consultation will help to inform decisions about whether Scottish regulations should be brought forward under the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and if so, what policy approach should be adopted for the setting of drug driving limits for specific types of drug.

9. Respondents' Other Comments

9.1 In addition to their comments on the questions posed in the consultation document, respondents also sometimes made comments that were not directly related to the consultation questions. These addressed a range of topics which are summarised in the points below.

  • Respondents occasionally expressed concerns about the implementation of the regulations, and the potential for an adverse impact on people who are legitimately taking prescribed medication for a long-term condition or to treat chronic pain. These comments generally came from charitable organisations that work with people in these situations. It was felt that the proposed legislation would put an 'unfair burden of proof' upon these (in some cases, vulnerable) individuals to demonstrate their innocence when, in fact, no crime had been committed.
  • Related to this point, some respondents called for a public health campaign to make members of the public aware of the change in legislation and to ensure that patients are aware of both their rights and responsibilities.
  • Some respondents also called for the careful monitoring of the impact of the changes in legislation - to identify any unintended negative impacts on people living with long term conditions and chronic pain. One respondent also thought there should be scope for reviewing the threshold associated with each drug.
  • Other respondents emphasised that prescribers have a duty to ensure that their patients understand when their medication may impair their driving skills. While these respondents recognised the importance of supporting people living with chronic pain to maintain independence, they also felt it was reasonable that patients should not drive if there is the possibility of putting other road users at risk.
  • While some respondents called for the police to be well equipped, supported and adequately resourced to enforce the new regulations, there was also a view that 'road collisions are caused by a wide variety of factors' and 'resources should be allocated proportionately to the level of risk the various factors present'.
  • Respondents frequently called for information ('robust guidelines') to be made more widely available to medical practitioners / prescribers about the implications for patients of driving when taking certain prescribed medications. It was pointed out that medical practitioners do not always advise patients about the effects of certain medications on their fitness to drive, and it was suggested that systems may need to be put into place to support doctors / prescribers with this. One respondent, a medical / clinical organisation, suggested using a similar tool to that used in the Netherlands, where a 'traffic light system' is used on medication packets. Under this system, red means it is unsafe to drive, amber indicates caution should be taken, and green means that the medication will not cause impairment to driving ability. It was suggested that in the absence of good information, there may be under-prescribing of medication to allow patients to continue to drive. This could then result in patients being impaired in their driving as a result of severe pain.
  • Respondents also frequently emphasised the importance of 'proper reporting to the DVLA' of medical conditions and medication that can impair driving. It was noted that current procedures rely on patients to self-report - and that this did not always happen. Respondents suggested that there needed to be a review of how these procedures were working, and that arrangements should be made for doctors (and potentially, other third parties) to more easily report patients to the DVLA when their driving was likely to be impaired by their illness or their medication.
  • Related to this, the point was also made that if the DVLA routinely received reports on patients whose medical conditions or medication may affect the safety of their driving, it would be less of an administrative burden to deal with the enforcement of the legislation, since the police would only need to contact the DVLA medical team for information.
  • A simple procedure for allowing the police to verify a person's claim to a medical defence needs to be developed. This procedure should not result in taking health professionals away from patient care.
  • There were concerns voiced about the potential for breaches of data protection if the police ask a pharmacist for verification of details of an individual's prescription in circumstances where there has been no explicit consent given by the patient to the disclosure. One pharmacy organisation commented that, although the Data Protection Act allows confidential information to be disclosed without consent for the purpose of detecting serious crime, the issue of drug driving was not necessarily seen as a 'serious crime'. There needs to be a system put in place to record patients' consent to disclosure. This could result in a significant administrative burden being put on pharmacists to check for patient consent.

9.2 Finally, there were queries about a statement in the consultation document (paragraph 17.1) that 'the police have powers to require individuals arrested or charged with an offence (who test positive for heroin or cocaine / crack) to attend up to two assessments with a qualified drug worker'. One Scottish respondent (an alcohol and drug partnership) commented that the medical practitioners in their area pointed out that it is the courts and procurators fiscal - not the police - who have the power to mandate drug treatments in Scotland. This respondent wanted clarification about whether the proposed changes in legislation would include changes to this existing arrangement, as there could be significant implications for drug services if the police were given powers to mandate treatment for individuals arrested for drug driving. At the same time, other respondents did appear to be in favour of linking arrests for drunk driving to a referral to treatment / recovery services.


Email: Mari Bremner

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