Buried within the new Crime and Courts Bill is a section on drug driving that could have a significant, unforeseen impact on patients with RA that are taking long-term medication to manage their chronic pain. As a result, NRAS is now starting to lobby for improvements to the Bill. The new legislation will be applicable to England, Scotland and Wales.
The Government is considering introducing a specific offence of driving under the influence of drugs. The legislation is designed to tackle those who put people at risk while driving under the influence of illegal drugs by introducing new testing systems, and eventually road side testing, for drugs. In a similar manner to drink driving laws, this would identify if a driver was over a threshold limit for a drug that would mean that they are unfit to drive. These threshold limits and the more detailed parts of the legislation have yet to be decided but there could be unintended consequences for people with RA unless further safeguards are put in place.
Our fear is that patients with RA who are on a stable dose of prescribed medication may be mistakenly identified by the new testing system as driving under the influence of drugs when in reality they are driving safely and unimpaired. In extreme cases this could lead to innocent RA patients being liable to prosecution.
The good news is that the Bill does at least make a statutory defence available for drivers who have taken a specified controlled drug in accordance with medical advice. However, we remain concerned about the consequences arising from the wording of the Bill, as the defence would not become available until a patient has already been put under the stress of arrest, further testing and their case has gone to the courts. In addition it appears that the burden of proof rests with the patient to show they took the prescribed drug in accordance with any and all instructions which could be onerous for the patient to prove.
This is clearly unsatisfactory and NRAS is therefore calling for the inclusion of an exemption for patients taking prescription medication in the new legislation. NRAS is now starting to work with other groups on this to engage with Government and try to ensure that our members and other innocent patients are not negatively impacted on by this proposed legislation.