It is an offence to drive with cocaine or its metabolite; benzoylecgonine in your system at a level which is above the specified limit, regardless of whether your manner of driving is affected.
How Cocaine affects driving:
Taking cocaine can make a person feel more alert, and produce an increase in focus and attention. You’d be forgiven for thinking that using cocaine might actually improve driving ability. However studies have shown that cocaine use increases the likelihood of having a road traffic accident, due to the additional risk taking and impulsive behaviours associated with the drug.
Furthermore, once the euphoric “high” of the drug has worn off and the drug metabolises into benzoylecgonine, people can typically encounter a definitive ‘comedown’ lasting around 24 hours in which they can experience exhaustion, depression and anxiety. All of which can affect driving ability.
What is the cocaine drug driving limit?
The current limit for cocaine in a ‘drug driving’ context has been set at 10 migrogrammes per litre of blood.
The current limit for the cocaine metabolite benzoylecgonine, has been set at 50 microgrammes per litre of blood.
What does this mean in practice? How much cocaine would it take to reach the drug driving limit?
A typical ‘line’ contains between 35 micrograms to 100 micrograms of cocaine. However this depends on a variety of factors including what the drug has been adulterated (cut) with. For example, some quantities of cocaine have been found to contain a level of purity of less than 5% whilst the ‘street’ average is usually around 50% pure cocaine. For this reason, it is difficult to say how much a person would need to take before they reach the limit; however common sense would say that the answer is “not very much at all”. The limits have been set in such a way as to allow only for “accidental” exposure. Also, you would need to take into consideration individual characteristics such as the body’s metabolic rate (the rate at which a person’s body breaks down the substance), height and gender etc. The answer of how much cocaine would it take to reach the drug driving limit would therefore differ from person to person.
Is the cocaine drug driving limit unfair?
When the government was considering setting the cocaine drug driving limit, it enlisted a panel of advisers ranging from specialists in pharmacokinetics (the science of what the body does to a drug), pharmacology and psychopharmacology, forensic toxicology, misuse of drugs, clinical practice, mental health, addiction science and transport safety. After considering all of the options, and the evidence relating to the point at which a user would become at risk of a road traffic accident or impaired driving, the recommended cocaine limit for driving that they came to was 80 micrograms of cocaine per litre of blood and 500 micrograms of benzoylecgonine per litre of blood; much higher than the limits that are in place today. The actual limits are set at only 10 micrograms for cocaine and 50 micrograms for the metabolite.
With particular reference to the fact that the panel of experts recommended a limit of 500 micrograms for benzoylecgonine, the cocaine metabolite, so as to exclude prosecution for cocaine consumption that occurred several days ago, it will be left in the mind of the reader to determine whether the drug driving limits are unfair. It is also with noting that this trend continues throughout all of the illicit substances listed under the new offence.
What is the sentence for driving whilst over the cocaine drug driving limit?
Pleading guilty to a charge of driving with a proportion of cocaine in your body above the specified limit will result in a mandatory disqualification for at least 12 months. An unlimited level fine. A possible prison sentence of up to six months. A criminal record. The offence would also appear on your driving licence for 11 years. For a more in-depth look at the types of punishment that follow a drug driving conviction, take a look at this article.
Are there any defences to driving whilst over the cocaine drug driving limit?
Despite a driver’s licence, career and whole life being on the line following a conviction for this offence, we know that the police, prosecution and forensic laboratories often make mistakes during the investigation and prosecution process for this offence. For that reason there are in fact many potential defences for a charge of drug driving. So much so that our managing director and high court advocate Alison Ashworth has never lost a case that she has taken on. We would therefore encourage any driver who has been accused of this offence to contact our confidential advice line on 0330 33 22 770 for free initial advice on whether their particular case can be defended.
Article written by Managing Director and Expert Motoring Lawyer, Alison Ashworth.
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