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New Police Clampdown on Drug Driving

By: Kevin Dowling BA (IMC) - Updated: 6 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Government Police Drugs Driving

Following a report that warns of the increasing number of drivers under the influence of drugs, the police has launched a crackdown on drug drivers.

Why was the Report Initiated?

The clampdown has been prompted by the Government-driven report stating that the problem of drivers who have taken illegal and legal drugs that could impair their driving skills has now gotten worryingly out of proportion.

According to official figures collected in 2008, around 1,644 people were found guilty of driving whilst under the influence of drugs, whereas there were more than 71,000 motorists convicted of drink driving.

The Medical Council's View

The British Medical Association, however, believes that the official statistics do not accurately reflect the numbers of drug users escaping unnoticed on our roads today.

According to their statistics, almost half of all 16-24 year olds in England and Wales are reported to have tried cannabis and almost 40% have admitted to taking other hallucinogenic substances.

What About Prescription Drugs?

Legal drugs can also become dangerous too. Millions of people in the UK regularly take over the counter drugs such as pain-killers, anti-histamines and cough mixtures, all of which can have a sedative effort and impair a driver’s ability to handle the road and their vehicle.

The law is clear: driving whilst considered to be under the influence of drugs (Illegal or legal) is a criminal offence and carries the same stiff penalties (such as a driving ban or prison sentence) as a motorist would receive for driving under the influence of alcohol.

The current laws, however, do not specify any legal limit for the amount of drugs believed to be found in the suspect’s blood system.

The Need for Better Testing

The BMA believes that motorists should be tested for drug use in the same way that they are currently tested for alcohol. The organisation is now calling on the new Government to undertake some extensive scientific research to establish more effective ways to test motorists who are suspected of being under the influence of drugs.

The BMA believes that cannabis is the most commonly detected illegal drug associated with road traffic accidents. The drug is known to cause impaired co-ordination, weakens visual perception and lack of awareness of others.

So What Can the Police Do?

The Government has responded to the calls for improved drug testing by promising to introduce greater powers for the police, to help them detect and deal with potential drug drivers.

This includes the proposed roll-out of hand-held drug detectors, expected to become increasingly common throughout the UK over the next two years.These new devices detect drug usage by taking a sample of hair or saliva. The evidence can then be used to detect illegal drugs in the driver’s system.

At present, the drugs checking procedure takes considerably longer, with the police having to call in a doctor to take a blood sample from the suspect at the police station.

Yet the BMA also warns that developing a practical and legal device to assess the effects that illegal drugs might have on a motorist is more complex a challenge that it first appears.

It admits that, given that cannabis usage can remain in the bloodstream for up to 28 days, it is difficult to assert a claim that a driver’s ability has been affected by the drug to an extent that an accident has been caused.

The Government's ViewThe Department of Transport have responded by stating that the new hand held devices will be used alongside drug use recognition techniques that will help the police towards developing the “greater confidence needed to arrest a suspect.”

The Department has also announced a new publicity campaign warning drug users who drive of the increased likelihood of getting caught under the new climate.

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