Driving tests

UK government sets limits for drug traces in blood; NZ has no recommendations yet

New Zealand’s current law, which was brought into effect on 1 November 2009 states that it is illegal to drive while impaired by drugs, even legally prescribed drugs such as Benzodiazepines. However, it’s only alcohol that has prescribed maximum limits. This is the same as in the UK, except that they are gearing up to have absolute limits.

Proposed drug limits in the UK

Some drugs are proposed to have a zero limit, such as  Cannabis, MDMA (Ecstasy), Cocaine, Ketamine, Benzoylecgonine (primary metabolite of cocaine), Methamphetamine, Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD), 6-monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM – heroin and diamorphine). Another group will have very small doses tolerated to allow for the inadvertent consumption of an illegal drug. Another group consists of medically approved drugs which are known to affect a person’s reactions, such as clonazepam, diazepam, flunitrazepam, lorazepam, methadone, morphine, oxazepam and temazepam.

The UK Automobile Association (AA) held a round table with the Home Office, police, Department for Transport and medical and addiction experts on this issue in 2008.

Undoubtedly, New Zealand’s transport authorities will be awaiting the results of this change by the UK government to gauge the effectiveness of introducing similar measures here. New Zealand has a high rate of recreational drug use and police already do have the ability to perform a compulsory impairment test if a driver appears to be under the influence of a drug. The compulsory impairment test includes an eye assessment (looking for pupil size, reaction to light, lack of convergence and abnormal or irregular eye movement), a walk and turn assessment and a one leg stand assessment.

Police target the substances most likely to be used by New Zealand drivers, which are cannabis, opiates, amphetamines, sedatives, antidepressants and methadone.

What drugs can police test for in New Zealand if a driver fails a compulsory impairment test?

A full list of drugs can be found in the four schedules starting from this page. They include Class A controlled drugs such as cocaine, heroin and PHP; Class B controlled drugs such as amphetamine, cannabis and MDMA; and parts 1, 4 and 7 of schedule 3 outlining Class C drugs.

Parliament also extended this to cover the following benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety and tranquiliser medications).

Alaprozolam Delorazepam Ketazolam Oxazepam
Bromazepam Diazepam Loprazolam Oxazolam
Brotizolam Estazolam Lorazepam Pinazepam
Camazepam Ethyl Ioflazepate Lormetazepam Prazepam
Chlordiazepoxide Fludiazepam Medazepam Temazepam
Clobazam Flunitrazepam Midazolam Tetrazepam
Clonazepam Flurazepam Nimetazepam Triazolam
Clotiazepam Halazepam Nitrazepam
Cloxazolam Haloxazolam Nordazepam

Also included are —

(i) any controlled drug analogue (within the meaning of controlled drug analogue in section 2(1) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975); and

(ii) any prescription medicine; but excluded is any substance, preparation, mixture, or article if it is excluded by regulations made under the Land Transport Act.

What is the penalty in New Zealand for driving impaired by drugs?

The penalties for drug-impaired driving are aligned with the penalties for drink driving offences.  The table below gives examples of the penalties.

Nature of Offence    Penalties
No Injuries Drug Impaired – First or second offence
  • Up to 3 months in prison or a fine of up to $4,500; and
  • disqualified from holding or obtaining a driver licence for at least 6 months.
Drug Impaired – Third or subsequent offence
  •  Up to 2 years in prison or a fine of up to $6,000; and
  • disqualified from holding or obtaining a driver licence for more than 1 year.
Causing injury or death Drug impaired driving causing injury
  • Up to 5 years in prison or a fine of up to $20,000; and
  • disqualified from holding or obtaining a driver licence for 1 year or more.
Drug impaired driving causing death
  • Up to 10 years in prison or a fine of up to $20,000; and
  • disqualified from holding or obtaining a driver licence for 1 year or more.

In situations where impairment cannot be proved, but there is evidence of drugs in the bloodstream other penalties can apply.

This is a link to the original legislation.

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Darren has written over 3000 articles about driving and vehicles, plus almost 500 vehicle reviews and numerous driving courses. Connect with him on LinkedIn by clicking the name above

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